Healing from War: One Year of Addressing Mental Health Needs in Ukraine
What causes the most disruption when a war breaks out? The lack of safety? A lost job?
More likely, it’s the toll of war on mental health.
A survey from the United Nations found that roughly half of Ukrainian respondents said the war has most impacted their mental health, surpassing other areas including safety, physical health, income, and access to food.
Data from this report, published a few months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, doesn’t address the long-term mental health issues Ukrainians will likely experience following the trauma of war.
The World Health Organization estimates that 1 in 5 people who live in an area impacted by conflict in the last 10 years suffer from some form of mental health condition. Under these circumstances, it’s estimated that as many as 9.6 million Ukrainians are battling mental health conditions ranging from mild depression or anxiety to psychosis.
As Brother’s Brother Foundation (BBF) rolled out a response to address Ukrainians’ medical, housing and hygiene needs in the early days of the war, an emphasis on mental health also began to take root.
BBF developed a partnership with the Federation Global Initiative on Psychiatry (FGIP), a nonprofit organization aimed at ensuring every society has access to comprehensive and humane mental health treatments.
In June 2022, BBF and FGIP began implementing a multi-faceted approach to untangle a web of issues that have prevented many Ukrainians from receiving the mental health care they need. The year-long journey improved the accessibility and quality of mental health resources for Ukrainians in all circumstances—from the mother and child seeking refuge in Lithuania to the emergency first responder who, staying behind to help injured civilians, witnessed the unthinkable.
Here is a look at the aid that was provided and the issues it addressed:
Addressing Attacks on Health Care Infrastructure
Delivering aid and supplies
There have been over 1,100 attacks on Ukraine’s healthcare system since the February 2022 invasion. About 1,000 of these attacks have impacted medical facilities, and more than 400 have disrupted the access to or transportation of medical supplies.
Aid from BBF purchased two vans used to deliver humanitarian aid to more than two dozen health institutions. One of these vans was later donated to a social care home in Lutsk and was used to help civilians evacuate front lines in the East.
Keeping the lights on
Russian bombings have caused power outages across the country. In psychiatric hospitals without electricity, doctors provide care the dark and patients are exposed to the harsh Ukrainian winter.
BBF purchased ten generators that were delivered to psychiatric hospitals in Ukraine. It also helped FGIP supply over 1,000 headlamps to approximately 40 health institutions, allowing medical staff to make their rounds to patients despite blackouts.
Providing mental health resources and care to vulnerable populations
Removing barriers to mental health care
Financial barriers and a lingering stigma surrounding mental health prevent many Ukrainians from seeking help, despite desperately needing the care. The average cost of a typical ten-week therapy session in Ukraine ranges between $217 and $379. For civilians earning an average salary, this cost is unaffordable.
Funding from BBF supported the maintenance of www.samopomi.ch , a Ukrainian website designed to provide free mental health resources to Ukrainian refugees, civilians and first responders. The website informs users on a variety of mental health conditions and topics in addition to providing comprehensive self-help resources.
Similar information can be accessed on the corresponding samopomi.ch Instagram and Facebook pages. In 2022, Samopomi.ch had 300,000 users access its website and garnered more than 60 million views on Facebook.
Helping first responders handle war-related PTSD
Ambulance workers, rescue teams and other first responders who witness war-related violence and have an increased risk of developing PTSD.
Using the framework created by Samopomi.ch, FGIP developed a free mental health program specifically geared to helping first responders. Currently, most of the program’s clients are mental health professionals and journalists.
Building the infrastructure to handle a mental health crisis
Training mental health professionals to heal war-related trauma
Less than 3% of Ukraine’s health budget is dedicated to treating mental health. Of that funding, 89% is dedicated to inpatient mental health services. Ukraine’s lack of psychologists and social workers in addition to a lack of mental health training in the country have limited civilians’ options for outpatient mental health care.
BBF’s support helped Ukrainian mental health professionals attend conferences on war-related trauma.
In September 2022, FGIP bussed 150 Ukrainians to Vilnius, Lithuania, where psychological trauma experts from Tbilisi, Georgia, led a two-day training on helping patients recover from war-related trauma.
In March 2023, 50 more mental health professionals were brought from Ukraine to Lithuania to attend a training on helping IDPs cope with war-related trauma. The same group of mental health professionals underwent another training on grief and mourning in June 2023.
Creating a place for refugees to access psychiatric care
Refugees have a higher risk of suicide than the general population. This is especially the case for those who are fleeing a country with limited or weak mental health resources.
Prior to the war, Ukraine had the third-highest rate of suicide in the world after Lithuania and Russia.
Since then, nearly 80,000 Ukrainians have sought refuge in Lithuania, escalating the country’s need for mental health care. However, since Ukrainian psychiatrists do not have the credentials to practice medicine in Lithuania, language barriers prevent many Ukrainians from accessing the help they need.
Funding from Brother’s Brother Foundation helped create a crisis center for Ukrainian and Belarussian refugees at the Vilnius Mental Health Center in Lithuania. The center opened in August 2022 and functions as an interface for refugee communities and mental health care services. Ukrainian psychiatrists are overseen by a Lithuanian psychiatrist who prescribes medications to patients.
The center also provides Lithuanian language courses to help Ukrainian and Belarussian psychiatrists obtain their medical license in Lithuania.
Within nine months of opening, the crisis center provided 550 consultations to refugees, 75% of whom had fled Ukraine.
To donate directly to BBF’s relief efforts in Ukraine, visit our donation page. In the drop-down menu, select “Ukraine Relief.”