Two years on mental health and psychosocial needs in ukraine and affected countries

Learning about mental health and psychosocial needs in Ukraine and affected countries

Reda SadkiGlobal health

The report “Two years on: mental health and psychosocial needs in Ukraine and affected countries” is from the Psychosocial Support Centre, a specialized hub of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) with the mission to “enhance psychosocial support initiatives”.

Key points from the report include:

  • Nearly “one in ten of those affected by war grapple with moderate to severe mental health issues.” This refers to the crisis having significant psychological impacts on those directly impacted or displaced by the conflict.
  • Over 1 million crisis-affected people have received psychosocial support (PSS) “thanks to specialist staff and more than 124,000 volunteers from 58 countries.” 
  • There are “increased psychological assistance requests…from women heading households” as Ukraine sees heightened risks to families and disruptions to support services due to the conflict. 
  • “Three out of four parents report signs of psychological trauma in their children” including impaired memory, inattention, and learning difficulties. Children are especially vulnerable to the stresses and trauma resulting from the conflict. 
  • Psychological First Aid (PFA) services are provided “at Humanitarian Service Points along refugee routes, through call centers, and at various contact points”.

Overall, the report highlights the substantial scale and complex nature of MHPSS (mental health and psychosocial support) needs driven by the Ukraine conflict as well as the scale and scope of the Red Cross Red Crescent response mobilized so far including through delivery of PFA (Psychological First Aid) and PSS (psychosocial support).

What are the challenges?

The report on mental health and psychosocial needs in Ukraine highlights several key challenges, including:

  • The vast scale of needs driven by protracted conflict, with 14.6 million people requiring humanitarian assistance. Meeting mental health demands for crisis-affected populations often exceeds available capacity and resources.
  • Ensuring consistent, sustainable care and support with constrained funding and risk of donor fatigue as the crisis persists long-term. Services must have resilience even as attacks continue disrupting infrastructure.
  • Reaching vulnerable groups like the elderly and immobile with limited mobility to access care. Specialized outreach and home-based care is essential but demanding to deliver.
  • Preventing burnout, fatigue and declining wellbeing among staff and volunteers working under intense pressure in risky environments. Their mental health and capacity is vital but often overlooked.

What can we learn about psychological first aid (PFA) for children from this report?

First, we need to understand the specialized terminology used:

  • The term “MHPSS” (mental health and psychosocial support) refers to a continuum of support aimed at protecting and improving people’s mental health and wellbeing during and after crises. The report notes resourcing this immense and growing scale of MHPSS need remains an acute challenge.
  • Psychological First Aid (“PFA”) describes a humane, supportive response to a fellow human being who is suffering and who may need support.
  • Child Friendly Spaces (CFS) are a key element of the Red Cross Red Crescent psychosocial support response in Ukraine. They are “a service to increase children’s access to safe environments and promote their psychosocial well-being.”

We learn that with support from the IFRC Psychosocial Centre, the Ukrainian Red Cross Society:

  • has provided recreational activities to almost 70,000 children in CFS inside Ukraine over the past year;
  • trained 319 staff and volunteers in managing CFS;
  • runs CFS to help children cope with issues like difficulties meeting new people, separation anxiety, and fear when air raid sirens sound.

The report shares anecdotes from children, such as a child who came to a CFS in Kyiv after fleeing heavy shelling. His social anxiety has improved and he asks his mom if he can skip school to go to CFS activities instead.

More data, supported by analysis on outcomes and effectiveness, could further strengthen the report.

How can peer learning be useful?

A peer learning model focused on improving health outcomes is likely to be relevant in addressing these multilayered challenges. It is specifically designed to foster reflection and unlock intrinsic motivation in practitioners to create change.

  • Peer learning methodologies could help meet capacity gaps by scaling support across affected areas rapidly through digital means.
  • Peer support networks could enable volunteers and staff caring for others to also care for themselves, preventing fatigue. 
  • By connecting practitioners across borders and sectors, peer learning could help to share innovative, context-appropriate solutions and accelerate their testing and refinement to meet needs.

Reference: Two years on: mental health and psychosocial needs in Ukraine and affected countries. Psychosocial Support Centre, Copenhagen, Denmark.

Image: Psychosocial Support Centre Report cover.