Mental Podcast Show

The mental health first aiders fighting back in Ukraine
BBC
By Martha Henriques
23rd February 2023

The question is, when an entire country is under siege, infrastructure is being targeted, and movement in the open is dangerous or impossible, how do you provide that essential information before the golden hours are up?

Mental health workers in Ukraine have been providing urgent psychological care since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion. Their work could limit the lasting mental health repercussions of the war.

When Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine broke out on 24 February 2022, Iryna Frankova, a medical doctor and clinical psychologist working at Bogomolets National Medical University in Kyiv, knew that she had to act fast. There was the need to check her loved ones were safe, and that she wasn’t in imminent danger. There was the question of whether to leave and if so, where to go.

But there was another urgent question too. Ukraine would soon be facing a crisis in mental health and, if previous conflicts were anything to go by, this was likely to be sidelined at precisely the moment when the most impactful help could be given – right at the start.

After a trauma, there is a window known as the “golden hours”, a critical period in which action to support people’s mental health can limit long-term damage, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression.

“It’s the idea is that we really need to reach people in a very early stage after the exposure to trauma, in order to be able to prevent mental health consequences,” says Frankova, speaking to BBC Future one year after the war began.

On one level, this might seem common sense: a particularly good time to offer someone comfort is when they are reeling from shock. But the evidence suggests that such small acts of support – sometimes as simple as reminding someone that they are not alone – reduces the risk of developing conditions that linger for years.

A year into the war, the app has now reached 81,000 users, and the service is now expanding beyond the automated chatbot service to offer a live chat with mental health professionals. They’ve had close to 5,000 requests already, Lezin says. Now, the chatbot has become a part of a European Union-funded project on psychosocial support for Ukrainians in bordering countries. They’re soon to launch the service on WhatsApp, as well as its own standalone app. “This is a good beginning,” says Frankova.
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