Children and young people are bearing the invisible wounds of the conflict in Ukraine
Mental Health Europe (MHE) is very troubled by the evolving situation in Ukraine and how the conflict is impacting children, adolescents, young people, and their families.
It appears that we are now living in a time unlike any other, in which we are going through one overwhelming experience after another. European countries unfortunately have a long history of exposure to large-scale trauma, mainly because of human-made events such as war.
Unexpected life-threatening events, conflicts and wars have immense consequences on mental health and wellbeing especially in children and young people. Witnessing such conflicts results in trauma, overwhelms the victims and has a profound impact on many areas of a child’s life. Wars and conflicts can lead to a toxic mix of stress and mental and physical health problems during childhood and beyond.
Studies spanning many decades reveal that Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) have a powerful relationship to adult physical and mental health. There is a very wide and extensive body of research on the impact of war in the cognitive development of children, physical/mental health, and wellbeing.
In countries torn by war and prolonged violence, mental health problems are actually “a normal reaction to abnormal events”. Research carried out in armed conflict zones shows that “war trauma leads to long-term consequences on the psyche of children”. The longer the conflict, the worse the consequences on mental wellbeing.
UNICEF has stated that “every child caught up in the conflict in eastern Ukraine is now thought to be in need of psychosocial support” and almost half a million children are now facing grave risks to their physical and mental wellbeing. In 2021, UNICEF managed to provide psychosocial support to 70,000 children, youth and caregivers. With the conflict escalating, the demand for these services will increase exponentially.
This is not only a geopolitical and humanitarian issue, but very much a public health issue as well. Long-term mitigation strategies will be needed to support those that have been exposed to the conflict in Ukraine. In the immediate and short-term, psycho-social support and access to good quality mental health services are necessary. It is promising that some neighbouring countries are already setting in motion support services for Ukrainian refugees.
First-level response interventions should aim to strengthen the coping strategies and resilience of children and young people. Much work also needs to be planned to support the drivers of good mental health, such as securing good housing, education, income for families and more. This will pave the way for better recovery and a mentally healthier future for all.
Mental health helplines and support services:
Лінія запобігання самогубствам
MHE members-led initiatives are now emerging trying to support in alleviating the mental health impact of the war in Ukraine. MHE will share this information when it becomes available.
If you have information about a helpline or a service providing mental health support during the Ukraine crisis, please let us know via info[at]mhe-sme[dot]org.
Those who have been impacted by the pandemic and by the overwhelming news coverage of the crisis in Ukraine are encouraged to use MHE’s map of helplines and support services providing mental health care in many countries throughout Europe.