Aug 13 (By Phiona Koyiet, Senior Technical Advisor for Mental Health and Psychosocial Support at World Vision) –
It has been said that it is a “boys’ and girls’ war”, but the true meaning of this statement is only just beginning to emerge. More than two-thirds of Ukrainian minors have been forced to flee their homes since the start of the war in Ukraine in February 2022, some of them abandoned to their fate in foreign countries.
They have said goodbye to their parents, left behind their friends, schools and belongings, and been exposed to the terrible things that human beings can do to each other.
Your experiences of the last five months are having a devastating impact on your mental health and well-being; an unfortunate legacy that could last a lifetime without proper support.
As in many armed conflicts, children are the most affected by war. Children have been cut off from their support networks, suffered injuries, witnessed death and destruction, and faced the greatest tragedy of all, the loss of loved ones.
Unfortunately, these experiences predispose them to the risk of mental disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation, among others. And the terrible toll to date, which includes more than 800 children killed or injured, only increases as the war drags on, as many families remain trapped in areas subjected to continuous bombardment.
In conflict-affected areas of Ukraine, access to water, food, shelter and security is often limited or non-existent. Even those who have moved to neighboring countries and go to bed having eaten and sheltered, are at risk of mental and emotional problems as they try to find their way in a foreign place with a language they do not understand. .
As many children have said to the staff of one of the Happy Bubble children’s spaces that we manage in Romania: “It’s fun to come here. But I just want to go home.”
WHAT CAN HAPPEN
In our latest report, ‘No Peace of Mind’, it was explained that the biggest concern of Ukrainian parents is the mental health of their children. It warns of the looming crisis if prompt action is not taken in Ukraine and in host countries.
Studies conducted in conflict zones are worrying: it is estimated that one in five people (22.1%) develop depression, anxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Mental wounds from the war in Ukraine could affect 1.5 million children into adulthood and lead to a mentally disturbed workforce within 15 years, if action is not taken now.
We know that these types of disorders are detrimental to the growth and development of children, and that they slow down brain development and life prospects. This is why we call for urgent interventions to protect this future generation.
As first responders, one of our first priorities has been to address the basic needs and services of children and families, such as food and shelter, which are crucial for psychosocial well-being. Our staff acts, backed by decades of experience in emergencies, always advocating for dignified, safe and socially acceptable modes of service delivery.
We also provide Psychological First Aid training to all implementing partners, so those directly helping are equipped with skills to provide supportive responses to someone who is experiencing distress and needs help, and refer them to the right services.
But while several organizations, including World Vision, have moved quickly to address the mental health needs of children and their caregivers, response capacity is limited.
Ukraine had a high mental health burden before the conflict, and spending on mental health and psychosocial support is not as high on the humanitarian agenda as it should be. Spending just $50 per person 4 now could prevent more than a million conflict-affected people from developing more complex mental health problems.
We urge donors, funding agencies and governments to increase their financial support and commitment to Emergency Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (Emergency Mental Health and Psychosocial Support) 5 interventions for Ukrainian refugees, especially children, in order to meet their immediate, medium and long-term mental health and psychosocial needs.
Funding should be provided both to minors in Ukraine and in neighboring countries. Adequate and timely funding for mental health intervention will help save the well-being of Ukraine’s future generation.
Let’s help this next generation not only survive this war, but build a promising future.