It’s Okay to Cry: The Ukrainian Refugee Mental Health Crisis

On February 25th, 2022, the world looked on as the conflict in Ukraine began. 3.6 million people fled the country as refugees and 6 million Ukrainians became internally displaced. Doctors in the neighboring countries and at the border are reporting that the biggest obstacle that Ukrainians face is their mental health.


Doctors treating the people affected by the Ukrainian conflict have said that acute stress disorder is the most common ailment reported. Acute stress disorder is also known as shock. It can develop after a person is exposed to one or more traumatic events. This event can include and is not limited to the threat of death, serious injury, physical or sexual. This can also occur simply by witnessing another person go through a traumatic event. Though acute stress disorder is temporary and often disappears after 3 months, it can lead to larger more precarious conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder, long-term anxiety, and depression.

A photo of a small black heart is symbolically passed from one hand to another to denote giving mental healthcare when needed.
A photo of a small black heart is symbolically passed from one hand to another to denote giving mental healthcare when needed.

Having a healthy mental state can be the difference between being able to function in everyday life and not at all. The worst cases are people having to be admitted to a facility for specialized psychology treatment. Lesser cases include long-term drug and alcohol dependency to mitigate the internal suffering, anxiety attacks, avoidance of certain places or things to prevent triggering a traumatic memory. One of the key differences in an individual being able to overcome acute stress disorder and PTSD is having social support. With the proper attention and care, individuals can process their trauma, healthy coping mechanisms and relearn to feel safe. Access to psychology services, spirituality, a sense of purpose, and community activity/involvement is essential to healing.


Specialists and doctors in mental health working with Ukrainian refugees are saying "Psychological first aid is a way to attend to people's mental health scratches and bruises so that they don't become festering wounds," Katz a psychologist on the border says, "You make sure people feel safe and secure, make sure they have meals to eat, especially make sure -- as much as you can -- they are together and are loved”.

A photo of scrabble letters spelling mental health matters against a marble background
A photo of scrabble letters spelling mental health matters against a marble background

Doctors without borders Dr. Axel Adolfo comments "It's more about listening and giving a shoulder to cry on. It's about having someone waiting there for them with arms fully open ... They just want to let go of the two to three weeks they spent in fear or doubt and can feel that they are close to [safety]." Most poignantly Adolfo says, "It's about being here and saying, 'The whole world is watching, and we are here to help you, and it's okay to cry,".


The relationship between mental health and refugees is not new. LIFE for Relief and Development has been a large supporter of refugees for many years in countries all over the world. LIFE now responds to the urgent care required in Ukraine. Of course, this would not be possible without the help of LIFE’s generous donors. We urge everyone to continue to support the Ukrainians as many begin their journey to heal, integrate and come to terms with all that they have experienced.

A photo of inspirational signs are posted on a fence.
A photo of inspirational signs are posted on a fence.

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