Older Vietnamese More At-Risk for Poor Mental Health

Using data from the California Health Interview Study (CHIS), the UC Irvine Center for Health Policy Research concluded that there is a significant need to address the often-neglected mental health problems among Vietnamese adults.
Incorporating CHIS data from the years 2001 to 2003 into their own work, UCI researchers initiated a population-based study, randomly selecting over 2,500 respondents across California and statistically analyzing their responses. The statewide telephone survey prompted 21 percent of Vietnamese over the age of 55 to respond affirmatively when asked if they required help with mental health issues.
Study leader Dr. Quyen Ngo-Metzger said that although CHIS surveys are carried out every two years, this study is the first to directly parallel CHIS data with mental health issues associated with the senior Vietnamese population.
With most Vietnamese immigrants arriving in the United States as political refugees, it is likely that the events of the Vietnam War and exodus from Vietnam are still very much affecting those who survived.
Starting her career as a general practitioner, Dr. Ngo-Metzger found reason to probe the situation during her years in Boston and Chicago where she treated many of her elderly Vietnamese patients for depression.
“Most of the studies were done in the 1980s right after the war and said that a lot of Vietnamese had post-traumatic stress and depression. But, this is 30 years later, and we are finding that Vietnamese seniors are still impacted by the war,” Ngo-Metzger said.
Professor Linda Vo, associate professor of Asian American Studies at UC Irvine, felt the effects firsthand.
“It was traumatic for my family, it was traumatic for everyone. All of us as Vietnamese-Americans have been affected by the war. Refugee camps were overcrowded and there were no counselors available to deal with the deaths of family members in the war and in escaping,” Vo said.
Even with statistical proof that the Vietnamese community is in need of mental health care, many factors play into why Vietnamese seniors are not seeking out mental health solutions.
“People often don’t know that it is a disease,” said Ngo-Metzger. He continued, “There’s not a word for depression in Vietnamese. They think that it is just something that they can deal with on their own and don’t realize that they can get help for it.”
The study has also highlighted the lack of communication between patients and their healthcare providers.
“A lot of doctors don’t ask how [the patients] are doing emotionally,” Ngo-Metzger said.
However, Ngo-Metzger admitted that the problem is not one-sided.
“A doctor should be asking questions and looking out for it, and a patient should be telling their doctors,” Ngo-Metzger said.
Vietnamese Student Association president and fourth-year biological sciences major Joseph Phan is also in favor of increasing communication and awareness.
“I have seen it firsthand through my parents, grandmother and other relatives. I feel that if more people in the Vietnamese community knew about this issue, then students who are affected will be more knowledgeable of the issue and either raise awareness or take action,” Phan said.
Spreading awareness and bridging the communication gap between patients and doctors is key to treating the problems at hand.
“It’s okay to seek help because it is treatable. There is help out there. Whether it is a student or a family member, you are not alone,” Ngo-Metzger said.