The volunteers at the Ngay Mai hotline

Bao, 27, has been talking with people suffering from psychological crisis for at least a year. He said he was surprised realizing that the callers are sometimes not in the age range he had thought.

Before becoming a volunteer at the Ngay Mai (Tomorrow) hotline, Bao believed that the callers who needed help were young people. But he later realized that there are also older and middle-aged people.

Young people suffer from depression and those who have financial and emotional problems suffer from depression but also people who lead comfortable lives, but still are in a bad psychological situation.

Bao remembered calls from a middle-aged woman with a high education level and stable job. Because she lived in a family without harmony, she felt stress and suffered from depression.

The woman called the hotline in a very bad state and she had planned her suicide. The only thing that was holding her back and prompted her to call the hotline was a small child.

“She could not seek sympathy from family members and she had no close friends. She had some friends, but they were also in the same state and some of them had tried to commit suicide,” Bao recalled.

In similar cases, in addition to listening to callers, Bao has to make an effort to delay the self-harm plans of the victims.

Promising to call back the next day is a compulsory step that all volunteers have to do to be sure that the victims are okay.

According to Bao, after local newspapers reported that a male student committed suicide, he received more calls from students of the same age who have similar problems.

A schoolgirl called him and said she was from a family where the parents divorced. Her stress came from the hurtful way that family members talked to each other.

Fortunately, the girl had a close friend who listened to her and did not judge her, but the friend could not understand what the girl was experiencing.

“She called to share her suppressed emotions. However, I feel that there is strength in her and I don’t think that she will do something to hurt herself,” Bao said.

Many stories that Bao has heard may not appear to be serious enough to cause stress or depression. However, volunteers like Bao always remind themselves that they need to be attentive and must not make judgments. They need to put themselves in the positions of the people to feel their pain or loneliness.

After the working shifts which last four hours, Bao sometimes feels that he loses positive energy. He had to find a way to relax. 

After studying mindfulness at university, Bao chose to sharpen a knife to practice mindfulness. When doing this, his mind is completely focused on the action and he regained a balanced feeling.

Sometimes he regains balance by making coffee at home. This requires him to focus on the taste and smell. 

Practicing mindfulness doing a certain task focuses all of the senses on the manipulations of that work to fully feel it at the moment it is happening, he said.

Sometimes the stories that Bao hears can bring him useful experiences. “They help me have a more thorough view of myself and the life around me. The stories that people relate help me have more experiences from a different perspective that I have never had the opportunity to experience. I feel grateful to have seen and heard the world from a different perspective,” he said.

A survey of the Mental Health Institute of Bach Mai Hospital found that 30 percent of the Vietnamese population have a mental disorder, of which depression accounts for 25 percent. It is estimated that 36,000-40,000 people commit suicide because of depression each year.

In 1999, the Government of Vietnam established a national strategy on mental health, using 5 percent of budget for healthcare.

Nguyen Thao