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Mental health crisis looms for 1.5million Ukrainian children - World Vision

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

A new report from World Vision warns that the crisis in Ukraine may create a scarred generation, with 1.5 million children at risk of mental health disorders, including anxiety and depression.

The report, No Peace of Mind: The looming mental health crisis for the children of Ukraine, sounds the alarm on an impending crisis as Ukrainian parents reveal their biggest worry is their children’s mental health.

World Vision says without swift intervention across Ukraine, and other countries hosting refugees, the mental wounds of war could affect children well into adulthood and lead to a generation crippled by mental disorders in 15 years.

The report highlights devastating stories of children crying through the night, feeling too frightened to sleep, and being able to name the different types of weapons used in conflict.

World Vision’s Country Director for Ukraine Crisis Response, Catherine Green, says it is crucial to prioritise mental health services for children and families before it is too late.

"World Vision is concerned that the conflict is subjecting children to constant fear and hopelessness and increasing their immediate stress responses. This puts them at greater risk for a range of mental disorders, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, and anxiety," she says.

"World Vision is boosting its psychosocial programming in the coming months, but we can’t do this alone. We know from experience in places like Syria and South Sudan that proper investment in mental health and other services is vital if children are to overcome the trauma they have suffered."

World Vision New Zealand National Director Grant Bayldon says military force not only places children in greater physical danger, but also threatens their emotional wellbeing.

"Exposure to airstrikes, bombing, and crude military violence can destroy a child’s sense of security which is fundamental for healthy childhood development. In addition to the constant threat of violence, so many of Ukraine’s children have been forced to leave their homes with the associated trauma of being ripped away from their support networks and separated from family members. It takes a real and long-lasting toll on children," he says.

In interviews with Ukrainian children and carers crossing the border into Romania, children repeatedly told World Vision staff of feeling scared and distressed every time they heard an airstrike.

"It was scary, very scary," says Polina, 12, from Mariupol. "Every day we heard the sounds of airplanes, tanks and shooting in the streets. A rocket blew up near our garden. One house was on fire and the walls fell. There was ash all over the city. It was time to leave."

One mother told World Vision staff that her family left Ukraine’s east largely due to concerns for the mental health of her children and grandchildren.

"You know at first children were scared. They had trauma," says Iryna, who is seeking refuge at a church building in Chernivtsi run by one of World Vision’s partners, Arms of Mercy.

"But then I noticed that the children were not even reacting when there was bombing. And it was also a shock to me. I couldn’t understand how kids do not react. They could exactly say what weapon it was. And that’s the scariest thing that the kids are getting used to it," she says.

Bayldon says spending just US$50 per person [i] now could prevent more than one million conflict-affected people [ii] developing more complex mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder.

He says previous studies have shown that nearly a quarter of conflict-affected populations may end up with some form of mental health disorder. In the context of Ukraine, that would mean about 4.5 million people - 1.5 million [iii] of them children.

"Children are resilient and they can be protected from lasting affects with the right support [iv]. The good news is that the outpouring of generosity towards the people of Ukraine means we are in a rare position in this emergency: there are funds to invest to help protect children’s mental health, and that of their caregivers. But it needs to be prioritised and funded by all parties seeking to help Ukrainian refugees."

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