Part of my job while I am working in sustainable global development abroad is to understand the perceptions of mental and behavioral health in Southeast Asia. One of the ways I will be able to do that is to attend local conferences that are relevant to the topic. This week I traveled to Bangkok, Thailand for the 16th annual international Mental Health Conference & the 14th annual Child Mental Health & Psychiatry Conference.

The conference was a mix of local Thai presenters and global leaders from WHO and Australia. Upon registration I was given a thick booklet with all the abstracts for the presentations and posters, written both in English and in Thai (very helpful). The focus of the conference was to understand the emerging interest in mental health in Asia using mindfulness therapy, networking, and the untapped peer support resource. A main take away was early detection and promoting early help-seeking behaviors.

WHO estimated that out of the 4.4% of the population that is affected by depression, half of them are residing in the Asia Pacific area (SE Asia and Western Pacific). Using prevalence and population health strategies, Taiwan has been able to see the suicide rate drop from 23% in 2005 to 15.7% in 2015. I was also happy to see that Australia is featuring Exercise Physiologists as in integral part of their preventative health program to address lifestyle contributions to disease.

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I was not able to attend the programming for the Child Mental Health conference but I wish I had. From the literature available I can gather that the main focus was technology (smart phone) addiction, health promotion programming, and health literacy promotion in infants and school aged children.

The English panels I attended were as follows:

Wednesday, August 2nd

  • “Mindfulness Network in Asia”, Dr. Chitramalee de Silva (Sri Lanka) and Dr. Yougyud Wongpiromasarn (Thailand)

  • Workshop: “Mindfulness Therapy in Depression”, Dr. Gamunu Rambukwella (Sri Lanka), and Dr. Yongyud Wongpiromsarn (Thailand)

Thursday, August 3rd

  • “Child Development: WHO Perspectives”, Dr. Shekhar Saxena (WHO)

  • “Addiction and Depression”, Professor Dr. Walter Ling (UCLA)

  • “A triple dividend from investments in adolescent mental health”, Professor George Patton (University of Melbourne)

  • “Depression in Children and Adolescent”, Dr. Victor Storm (Australia) and Dr. Mathurada Suwannapho (Thailand)

  • “Sharing of best practices in child development and mental health promotion in Asian Countries”, Dr. Duujian Tsai (Taiwan), and Dr. ML Somchai Chakrabhand (Thailand)

Friday, August 4th

  • “Community Mental Health: Lessons Learned from Australia and Application”, Dr. Samai Sirithongthavorn (Thailand) and Dr. Victor Storm (Australia)

The Bangkok Experience

Of course while I was there I had to experience the area.

Bangkok was a mixed bag for me. I loved the conference and many other things about the city but I will be glad to be back in Hanoi. Bangkok has a charming night life and street scene with the most amazing fruit you will ever have, but the streets are way too busy and the city is way too big (It is like an eternal downtown as far as the eye can see, with a 7/11 on every corner!). I spent way too much money on public transit but I did see a good portion of the city. I had Thai tea iced and hot, Tom Yum soup, salted fish, amazing new fruits, and lots of Thai chili. I saw beautiful architecture at the Grand Palace, the Temple of the Sleeping Buddha, and the Temple of Dawn. I took the buss, the Sky Train, the river boat, and even a Tuk Tuk! I met some great people who were here representing their countries while studying economics and even had a small tour of the giant campus of Kasetsart University in Bangkok’s Chatuchak District.

I cannot wait to come back to Thailand and experience some of the country side while I am In Chiang Mai for research next month!