Youths’ focus on healing a double-edged sword

By Thanh Nga, Quynh Nguyen   April 29, 2024 | 11:37 pm PT
After breaking up with her lover, Anh Ngoc immediately took a week off from work to travel abroad in the hope of "healing the many scars on her soul."

The 25-year-old girl in Ha Dong District, Hanoi said she had to leave the city in order to move on from the heartbreak, which was now based on the many memories of experiences she’d had with her boyfriend at locations throughout the capital.

In the past, it has taken Ngoc whole years to rebalance her life after previous breakups. Now in this current winter of her discontent, she visits a tarot card reader every day after work. At night, she listens non-stop to podcasts about healing processes to help her sleep. "It’s easier to live this way," she said.

Anh Ngoc on a healing holiday in early 2024. Photo courtesy of Ngoc

Anh Ngoc on a healing holiday in early 2024. Photo courtesy of Ngoc

Once a week, Van Lam in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 2 spends VND1 million ($39.43) for a singing bowl therapy class.

There, the 26-year-old man soaks his feet in herbal water, eats cakes, and reads books while listening to the sound of the singing bowl. The sound stimulates his sense of taste and vision, helping him to relax and curb his constant overthinking.

According to the class instructor, the frequency of the bell’s vibration invokes the subconscious to clear blockages of energy in the body and bring peace to the mind.

This and similar therapies are becoming more popular with freelance content creators like Lam, who has to work 10-14 hours a day and is constantly exposed to negative comments online.

That's why even though he's busy with work, Lam still takes the time for sound therapy. On the weekends, he and his friends frequently travel out into nature to temporarily disconnect from the pressures of the modern world.

He’s willing to spend anywhere between a few million to several tens of millions of dong (VND10 million = $394.6) on these trips, which he considers therapeutic and healing.

Such healing activities are increasingly popular, especially among young people. The trend appears to reflect the population’s need for psychological relief, reduced trauma, and the elimination of negative and insecure thoughts.

The United Nations called 2021 the "Year of Healing" after the negative impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.

There are no official or comprehensive statistics on the number of Vietnamese people participating in the types of healing services mentioned above.

However, on TikTok, the hashtags "chua lanh" (healing in Vietnamese) and "healing" are constantly in the top 100 most searched and used keywords.

The hashtag "chualanh" leads to more than 240,000 posts with more than 2 billion views, while the hashtag "healing" has 11 million posts with nearly 60 billion views.

Popular trends such as meditation, travel, leaving the hustling city for the idyllic countryside, participating in sports and workshops, listening to podcasts, listening to music, going to the cinema or watching films at home, and reading books are multiplying and becoming more popular.

On Facebook, hundreds of online groups dedicated to subjects like healing, therapy and wellness have been established in recent years.

Besides sharing their thoughts, many users in these forums also advertise healing services, promising to only use reputable treatment methods, with fees ranging from a few hundred thousand dong to tens of millions of dong per course.

Modern difficulties

Vu Thu Huong, a former lecturer at Hanoi University of Education, has attributed the popularity of self-healing among young people to the imbalances in their lives created by the pressures and stresses of their daily lives, expecially caused by their work and professions, which often leave them feeling depressed, anxious and even disoriented or confused about life and their place in it.

From a medical perspective, Dr. Tran Thi Hong Thu, Deputy Director and Head of the Clinical Department of Mai Huong Psychiatric Day Hospital in Hanoi, said that young people's need for treatment shows that their openness towards mental healthcare, which was once considered a stigma, in unabashed and rising.

Statistics in Vietnam show that nearly 15% of the population, about 15 million people, suffer from mental disorders. The rate of depression and anxiety accounts for 5.4% of the population.

At Thu's hospital, the number of young people seeking examinations for stress, anxiety and prolonged fatigue has increased 15-25% over the last year.

Before going to see a doctor for a consultation, an growing number of Vietnam’s psychologically suffering citizens are seeking out healing courses first. But not everyone achieves beneficial results they expected.

"They (patients) say they feel comfortable and at ease when participating in healing courses, but tired and stuck when returning to reality," said Thu.

Huong said, young people’s current tendency to lean towards healing trends in part demonstrates that some young people lack resilience, are more vulnerable, and some are simply unwilling to face the hardships of reality.

In addition, the influence of social media inspires some people to transform themselves in to hollow imitations of influencers they admire instead of achieving satisfaction with their true selves. And some people with perfectly fine mental health even become convinced by non-experts online that they have psychological problems, when in fact, they do not.

Phuong Ly, a 23-year-old from Hanois Cau Giay spends VND3 million ($118.3) a week on golf as a form of self-care. Photo courtesy of Ly

Phuong Ly, a 23-year-old from Hanoi's Cau Giay spends VND3 million ($118.3) a week on golf as a form of self-care. Photo courtesy of Ly

The cost of healing

Ngoc admitted that her journeys towards "healing" have plunged her into debt. Even though she has a monthly salary of VND15 million ($591.48), which is relatively high by local standards, and does not have to pay for food and accommodation because she lives with her parents, she’s always broke.

She never has any money and lives without even a single dong in savings because of her constant borrowing and taking loans for "healing" trips.

Making matters worse, she’s regularly reprimanded by her superiors at work for neglecting her job. However, seemingly thoroughly unfazed, Ngoc has remained committed to her path despite the negative results.

"No one can be strong enough to work with a soul full of scars," she said in her defense. "With a stable spirit, it is easy to advance at work," she concluded with the hope that her healing processes will one day bring her that as of yet illusive "stable spirit."

Unable to bear the pain from failing job interviews despite graduating with honors, Phuong Ly, 22 years old in Hanoi's Cau Giay District cancelled all her life plans to focus on relieving stress.

After more than three months of meditation, yoga, and psychological counseling, Ly was still depressed. She said she now plans to go abroad to experience newer healing methods like "energy cleansing" rituals, secular baptism, and events that focus on "free-crying" and screaming.

To avoid wasting money and exacerbating one’s mental illness, Thu advised that anyone experiencing psychological problems, especially young people, should seek out qualified doctors and experts to uncover the root of their problems.

After spending tens of millions of dong every month to make herself more comfortable after breaking up with her lover and getting laid off, Truc Uyen, 27 years old, said the pain and feeling of failure remain the same each time she returns to the realities of daily life.

"It says it's healing, but it does more harm than good," Uyen concluded. "What a waste."

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