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Warfare Exposes Children to Mental Disorder

Armed conflicts are cruel. Besides causing massive casualties and destruction, they often leave lasting scars in people’s hearts.

It has been over a year since conflict erupted in Ukraine in late February 2022. In the midst of this catastrophe, World Vision has not only been actively providing immediate and continued assistance for displaced children and families, but also assessed the psychosocial well-being of some of them during the early stages of the conflict. The No Peace of Mind report, which was then published based on previous data, issued a few heart-breaking warnings.

  1. In conflict-affected areas, one in every five people is estimated to develop mental disorder such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, etc. In the context of Ukraine, that would mean more than 4,500,000 people, including over 1,500,000 children.

  2. One in 11 people will experience moderate to severe mental disorder.

It is worrying to note that, according to World Vision’s Ukraine crisis response one-year-on report released in February this year, the number of people in need of psychosocial support has already exceeded 15 million.

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Timely Treatment is Crucial

From our experience in places like Syria and South Sudan, we know that it is extremely important that children affected by conflict receive psychosocial support as soon as possible to overcome the impact of such distressing experiences. On the contrary, if left unattended, there could be severe consequences that last for years.

In 2021, 10 years after the start of the war in Syria, a humanitarian organisation published a study upon interviewing several hundred displaced persons and refugees across North West Syria, Lebanon and Turkey. The study found that a shocking 88% of the people interviewed had experienced at least one symptom of PTSD and one life-threatening event, yet many of them were either unaware of the support available to them, or were reluctant to seek help. As Ukraine is a country with a similar level of development to pre-war Syria and has experienced similar examples of brutal urban warfare, now is the moment to provide timely and continued assistance for Ukrainian children and families to heal the scars in their hearts.
Continued Efforts Produce Better Results

Since the beginning of the response, apart from providing emergency relief for refugees, World Vision has also been offering different forms of mental health and psychosocial support. These include Child Friendly Spaces run by psychologists to help children temporarily forget the agony of war and allow parents to have some respite. Educational centres have also been set up to provide education opportunities for child refugees, helping them settle into their new life with less stress and sense of loneliness.

Child Friendly Spaces

Child Friendly Spaces have become safe havens for Ukrainian children to forget their fears for a brief time, put aside memories of the horrors they witnessed, and take a moment to have fun.

“I am grateful that there is a safe space for my son to stay. This free day care service is a big help because I cannot afford a babysitter at this time while I work.” – Yuliia (Ukrainian mother in Romania)

Educational Activities

To help displaced children to continue their education, World Vision assists them to be admitted in schools and provides non-formal education and educational supplies. The different types of activities and counselling aim to help young refugees make new friends and learn the local language for better social integration.

“My child who attends this school together with other Ukrainian children began to forget what the sound of the siren was, they only hear the sound of the school bells. They have forgotten how it was to hide in basements or bomb shelters, how scary it was to fear for your own life. Now they are studying, they are playing and they feel safe.” – Volodymyr (Ukrainian father in Georgia)

While mental health support may vary from art therapy and handicrafts to youth clubs, a lot of World Vision staff and partners implementing such interventions across the region do agree that as long as children are able to participate on a continued and stable basis, their mental well-being will significantly improve.

Youth Clubs

Each week, one of World Vision’s local partners in Ukraine runs youth clubs for children to take part in activities such as arts and crafts, exercises, dancing and singing, which allow children to connect and support one another. Sasha, an assistant coordinator of a youth club, says, “I’ve noticed, when children started visiting these clubs they were closed, and they didn’t share anything. And the more we speak with them, the more they become open, and this happens only to those who attend our clubs for a long time.”

“It’s hard when someone from your family, like brothers or your father, are sent to defend the country. So, I find clubs really helpful.” – Vlada (12-year-old youth club member)

Art Therapy

Tatiana is a clinical psychologist at a psychosocial support centre run by one of World Vision’s local partners in Moldova. Every week, she would conduct art therapy sessions with about 30 children to help them rebuild a sense of safety and prevent symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). She says, “Children who frequent the centre regularly differ significantly from those who visit just once or twice a month. When kids come here often and learn how to recognise their feelings, talk, and how to cope with stress, their overall mental well-being improves.”

“I’ve painted my house because whenever I think of my house, I think of happiness, laughter, and kindness. I have also painted my family. My family is my happiness. I wish that war would end, and the world would become peaceful and friendly.” – Maria (8-year-old participant)

We are providing child protection, mental well-being and psychosocial support for refugees and families affected by conflict in Ukraine and other parts of the world, so as to meet their psychosocial needs and help them recover from their traumatic experiences. Through Childhood Rescue, you can make a difference to help them survive, recover and build a future.

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