By I. Toledo
The war between Russia and Ukraine and the violence it involves has led to catastrophic effects on the mental health of not only Ukrainians but also all citizens of the world. This includes people of all ages and social groups, which are now faced with the burden of constant worry, terror, and fright in the unpredictability of what tomorrow may bring. The psychological damage caused by the war is believed to last generations, resulting in a trauma that is likely to have consequences for years to come.
Mental Health in Ukraine
As expected, Ukrainian citizens are the ones experiencing the worst of what the War is bringing. By being at the setting of the conflict, Ukrainians are first-hand witnesses to the true cruelty of war, living inside the constant threat of shelling, shooting, and losing loved ones, as well as the worry over accessing basic resources such as electricity, food, and water.
About 1 million Ukrainians have fled their countries, leaving their entire life behind, whilst the rest that was not as fortunate are now hiding in underground shelters. Those still inside the war zone have limited resources and are uncertain about their future, hoping only to make it through the day. Children are forced to watch as their parents pray the next missile will not hit their building, as well as having to watch as their homes, together with people they know, are destroyed, never to be seen again. The effects of this trauma on the youth are extremely dangerous, forming a scar which they will carry on throughout their whole lives, and likely pass on to the next generation in how these children will grow up and parent.
“In childhood, if a child witnesses shootings, killings, and violence around him/her, it will harm the child’s mental and psychosocial health. They might develop aggressive behaviour and they might suffer from nightmares, sleep disturbances, poor academic performance, and stunted growth consequently,” says Dr Neha Smita Lal, consultant psychiatrist at Jain Multi-specialty Hospital, Mumbai.
This devastating experience has not only led to a profound psychological impact on children but also on all the people of Ukraine. Unavoidable anxiety disorders, Depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are just some examples of side effects that are believed to be taking over the lives of survivors, not to mention the permanent memory of the war’s events that will never be erased from their minds.
“The trauma of losing people, nostalgia about the past... those scars and void could never be filled,” the Indian Army veteran Lt Col Sodhi said.
Effect on the rest of the world
Although it is indeed impossible to equate the experience of living through war to that of watching it unfold on a screen, the Russia-Ukraine War also influenced the mental health of those outside the war zone.
People from all over the world are seeking updates on the current state of the conflict on social media. On every platform, they will encounter heartbreaking videos and photos of damaged buildings and bodies after the shelling in cities, people and pets bunched in shelters, and Ukrainians calling their loved ones to say tearful goodbyes, just in case. These media are not only found on the news, but also on TikTok with 600 million views under #ukrainewar and on about 180 thousand Instagram posts with the same tag. With the increasing popularity of this topic, not only does the risk of misinformation and emotionally manipulative content increase but also, users are perpetually surrounded by terrible occurrences they are presumably powerless to prevent, only contributing to a buildup of stress and anxiety that could otherwise be avoided. Furthermore, research shows that news coverage of traumatic events can affect viewers’ mental health and increase their risk of developing health problems later.
What can be done to avoid mental health catastrophe?
Be it the life-threatening trauma of people who witnessed the war, the depression of those who lost loved ones, or the anxiety and worry of everyone bound to powerlessly watch the destruction from afar, it is clear that the war has shaken up the health of the entire world.
However, with the help of experts and a stable support system, people dealing with distressing circumstances can find a healthy way of coping and eventually brave the circumstances to rebuild themselves. Therapy is also strongly advised for those struggling, as it can help deal with the horror that lingers long after a traumatic event.
Moreover, to avoid anxiety and more severe problems, those behind the screens should aim to use social media safely and productively. This can be done by setting limits on the amount of time spent watching the news and checking for updates on social media. Furthermore, when feeling the need to access information, people should aim for reliable sources and avoid graphic content.