The impact of war in Ukraine- Mental health at edge

Ukrainians are living through a nightmare each day. The war has cost us lives, both living and dead. The impact on mental health has surged up in this ongoing crisis. Trauma and fear have been instilled within people not only in Ukraine but all across the globe. 

Disturbing photos and videos fill the screens of people seeking updates across the world: damage to buildings and bodies after the shelling in cities like Kyiv and Kharkiv, people and pets huddled in shelters, and Ukrainian citizens tearfully calling their loved ones to say goodbye, just in case.

It’s a lot to process.

It can be useful for anxious people—and anyone, really—to turn off the screen and walk away. Based on her research, Cohen Silver says she has chosen to read about the conflict in Ukraine rather than viewing images or videos that could be psychologically damaging. As the world has become increasingly digitalized, many people spend hours on social media platforms to gather information of various kinds. While many like to watch amusing memes, some consider social media sites to remain up to date with current affairs, like the Russia-Ukraine crisis.

Horrifying pictures and videos from the ongoing destruction in Ukraine have been circulating across the internet since day 1 of the Russian attacks. As per psychologists, watching such a violent war on social media lays a strong impact on our mental health. Since many of us are in the habit of “doomscrolling”, it becomes even more harmful.

Doomscrolling is often used as a coping mechanism, but Dr Touroni highlights that when you “engage with very upsetting news in an ongoing way” – such as the conflict in Ukraine – it can also “have a negative impact on our well-being. This is primarily because the brain benefits from neuroplasticity. In simpler words, it implies that those who meditate can often focus an overwhelmed mind as compared to those who can get easily distracted with minor things. As per Chartered psychologist Dr Audrey Tang, consistent exposure to any news through social media, including the Ukraine conflict, can impact the chemical pathways of your brain.

Children and young people are bearing the invisible wounds of the conflict in Ukraine

It appears that we are now living in a time unlike any other, in which we are going through one overwhelming experience after another. European countries, unfortunately, have a long history of exposure to large-scale trauma, mainly because of human-made events such as war. Unexpected life-threatening events, conflicts, and wars have immense consequences on mental health and well-being, especially in children and young people. Witnessing such conflicts results in trauma, overwhelms the victims, and has a profound impact on many areas of a child’s life. Wars and conflicts can lead to a toxic mix of stress and mental and physical health problems during childhood and beyond.

Studies spanning many decades reveal that Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) have a powerful relationship to adult physical and mental health. There is a very wide and extensive body of research on the impact of war on the cognitive development of children, physical/mental health, and well-being. This is not only a geopolitical and humanitarian issue but very much a public health issue as well. Long-term mitigation strategies will be needed to support those that have been exposed to the conflict in Ukraine. In the immediate and short-term, psycho-social support and access to good quality mental health services are necessary. It is promising that some neighboring countries are already set in motion support services for Ukrainian refugees. First-level response interventions should aim to strengthen the coping strategies and resilience of children and young people. Much work also needs to be planned to support the drivers of good mental health, such as securing good housing, education, income for families, and more. This will pave the way for better recovery and a mentally healthier future for all.

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