An elderly couple sits on a bench across from two HI psychosocial support officers in a small room

Providing mental health and psychosocial support to survivors of conflict

Survivors of conflict and disaster are at a higher risk for psychological distress. Working alongside local partners in Ukraine, Humanity & Inclusion strengthens mental health and psychosocial support services and provides direct aid to affected communities.

Since February 2022, there have been more than 17,000 civilian casualties in Ukraine, including over 10,000 people injured. As the full-scale war approaches a year, the crisis has affected millions of people. Displacing nearly 6 million people, the war has had a profound impact on mental health.

Since the beginning of the emergency, people in Ukraine have experienced a series of extreme stressors: sudden changes in daily life; exposure to violence, physical injury and illness; resettlement and separation; loss of loved ones, homes, property and income; interruption of education; harsh living conditions; uncertainty about the future; and in some places, lack of access to adequate food, water and essential services such as health, social care, security and legal protection.

"In this ongoing conflict, which has a huge impact on the population’s mental health, people in Ukraine are still showing a good level of resilience. In general, Ukraine’s citizens have great hope for a better future for the country and are supporting each other in various ways, making MHPSS more significant and crucial than ever.” – Bahar Eksim, HI MHPSS Specialist

HI's response

HI's mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) specialists in Ukraine are working to reduce suffering and improve the mental health and psychosocial well-being of the affected population through the delivery of an inclusive, immediate and multi-sectoral humanitarian response. These actions address the health needs of conflict-affected populations, focusing on internally displaced persons, persons with disabilities or new injuries and those with signs of psychological distress.

At the same time, HI provides capacity-building activities to existing health structures to help medical staff identify signs and symptoms of psychological distress and know where to refer individuals. As one of the few international aid organizations prioritizing the prevention and management of mental health and psychosocial needs in humanitarian crises, HI has the capacity to respond to some of these urgent needs. HI also trains field workers delivering different types of humanitarian aid such as basic needs agents and explosive ordnance risk education agents to make sure they are able to recognize common signs and symptoms of psychological distress and know where to refer them.

HI's experts are:

  • Providing individual and group MHPSS sessions for those experiencing psychological distress due to the emergency
  • Supporting health and non-health structures through training and supervision to increase their skills in identifying common signs and symptoms of distress and referring them accordingly
  • Providing support groups to staff in these structures to prevent burnout
  • Offering psychological first aid to people affected by the conflict
  • Conducting community-based activities such as MHPSS awareness sessions in order to fight the stigma around mental health, and responds to the MHPSS needs of communities through tailored individual and group support
  • Supporting local partners on the technical provision of MHPSS services under constant supervision, seeking sustainable solutions to ongoing MHPSS needs
  • Streamlining MHPSS into all existing programs to ensure any humanitarian aid provided promotes psychosocial wellbeing. 

From February to December 2022:

  • 1,462 people received group MHPSS support
  • 881 people received one-on-one MHPSS support
  • 415 people received psychological first aid
  • 121 people were trained in MHPSS practices

Impact on children, families

For children, adverse conditions in emergencies, such as exposure to violence, displacement and loss of their usual routines at home and school disrupt their cognitive, emotional, social and physical development.

“Many families with children who were also affected by the war live in the locations where we work," explains Oleksandra Usyk, HI psychologist. "The children have irritability, increased anxiety, sometimes introversion, and aggressiveness in communication with other children. There is also fear, insecurity, increased sensitivity, and sadness for the previous life they lost.

"We help them by providing group-counseling sessions where children learn healthy ways of coping with their experiences, talking about them, and switching their attention," Usyk adds. "Our team helps to support children, which is not always possible for their parents, who are also in a state of emotional tension.

"Our work unites families and helps them better adapt to new living conditions.” – Oleksandra Usyk, HI Psychologist

In working with patients of all ages, HI's specialists are noticing increased levels of anxiety, fear and tension. Many experience panic attacks and have difficulties sleeping.

"Our visit is helpful as the patients have the opportunity to verbalize their experiences and emotions, receive support, learn to regulate their emotions, and familiarize themselves with self-care techniques," explains Karina Kirilich, another HI psychologist. "Over time, we observe a decrease in the level of anxiety and emotional tension, a newfound ability to recognize and share their emotions and feelings, an improvement in the level of socialization and communication, which, accordingly, affects the improvement of their well-being."