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Ho Chi Minh City to test no-drug approach for depression treatment

Ho Chi Minh City to test no-drug approach for depression treatment

Friday, September 29, 2023, 21:34 GMT+7
Ho Chi Minh City to test no-drug approach for depression treatment
This image shows elderly people receiving free medical checks at a health station in Ho Chi Minh City, southern Vietnam. Photo: Thu Hien / Tuoi Tre

Health authorities in Ho Chi Minh City will launch a trial of treating people with mild to moderate depression without using medication, with the support of the World Health Organization (WHO), the municipal Department of Health has announced.

The WHO Office in Vietnam has introduced the model of community-based depression treatment without drugs as part of a program that supports the city’s health authorities to implement the WHO Package of Essential Noncommunicable (WHO PEN) Disease Interventions, Prof. Dr. Tang Chi Thuong, director of the health department, said on Thursday.

Accordingly, the health department will pilot this drug-free treatment approach in five health stations within this year, including one in An Thoi Dong Commune of Can Gio District and the four others in Tan Phu Trung Commune of Cu Chi District, Tan Hung Thuan Ward of District 12, Phu Trung Ward of Tan Phu District, and Ward 15 of Tan Binh District.

Under the new model, people with mild to moderate depression will be invited to participate in a treatment plan with specific psychotherapy sessions, without using any pharmaceuticals, at their local health stations to help them recover and prevent relapse.

People with signs of severe mental disorders such as bipolar disorder, psychosis, substance addiction or suicidal thoughts will be referred to specialized medical facilities for examination and treatment.

WHO experts will provide technical support and training for grassroots health workers to improve their capacity to detect, treat, and manage a number of common mental disorders, including depression and anxiety disorders, Dr. Thuong said. 

The trial’s outcome will be assessed to form a basis for expanding the model to the whole city in the years to come, according to the health department.

During a health examination provided for people aged 60 and older in the city in August, 420 were found having signs of mild to severe depression and 295 others were discovered suffering mild to severe anxiety, accounting for 3.05 percent and 2.14 percent, respectively, of the total number examined, the agency reported.

Currently, over 75 percent of depressive disorder cases in low- and middle-income countries, including Vietnam, do not have access to treatment and support services, according to WHO. 

Most psychiatric treatment systems in developing countries do not have enough psychiatrists to examine and treat patients, while people’s understanding of depression is still limited, with those suffering mental disorders heavily stigmatized.

Depression, also known as depressive disorder, is a common mental disorder that can affect all aspects of life, including relationships with family, friends, and community.

Typical clinical manifestations of depressive disorder include prolonged sadness, lack of interest or joy in life, poor concentration, feelings of excessive guilt or low self-worth, low motivation and energy, hopelessness about the future, and thoughts about dying or suicide.

They can be accompanied by physical symptoms such as fatigue, pain and ache, nervousness, palpitations, and sleep disorders, among others.

Depression can happen to anyone, and people who have lived through abuse, severe losses or other stressful events are more likely to develop depression, WHO said, adding that women are more likely to have depression than men.

Depression can begin at any age and can become chronic if not detected and treated early.

An estimated 3.8 percent (about 280 million people) of the world’s population experience depression, including five percent of adults and 5.7 percent of people aged over 60. 

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Vinh Tho - Thu Hien / Tuoi Tre News

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