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The Impact of the War in Ukraine on the Psychological Well-being of Students

Updated: May 12, 2023

Russian military forces invaded Ukraine again on February 24, 2022, escalating the continuous conflict that has plagued the sovereign country since 2014. Even though one year has passed, many of us, including me, remember that date so clearly as if it was just yesterday. I woke up to the news that the Ivano-Frankivsk region was bombed. This is where my parents currently live and that is what scared me the most. The rest of the day was blurry and emotional: constant calls with family to make sure they were safe, discussions with my other friends who were also affected, demonstrations in the city center, unity, tears, fear, and not knowing what to expect next. The conflict's brutality and trauma have seriously harmed the mental well-being of the Ukrainian populace, and university students in the country an abroad were no exception. Students who are exposed to violence, trauma, or displacement may have symptoms of anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and disruptions to their studies, financial instability, or social unrest may make these issues worse[1]. According to a recent UN assessment, more than 2,000 people have died and 5,500 have been injured since the conflict began[2], underscoring its catastrophic effects on the populace. Furthermore, universities in conflict-affected areas have been forced to operate under difficult conditions, with students facing uncertainty over their academic futures and the prospect of being unable to complete their studies.

Moreover, the war has indeed so severely damaged the educational system to the point that some universities had to close. Due to the displacement of many families, as well as the expulsion of many students from their homes and towns, sentiments of loneliness and isolation have developed, which can aggravate mental health issues. Furthermore, the economic insecurity and social disruption caused by the war have had a significant impact on the mental health of both Ukrainian and non-Ukrainian students[3]. The impact of the war is not limited to Ukrainian students alone, as it has also affected the mental health of students who live outside the country but have ties to Ukraine[4]. Many of them had to leave the country and become refugees abroad. Those, who already lived abroad had to seek help and support as there was no possibility to return. While dealing with such difficulties, students frequently suffer displacement, loneliness, helplessness, and unease. These students and their families may experience financial instability due to the war's economic and social disruptions, which would add to their already high levels of stress and anxiety. Recognizing the effects of war on university students' mental health is essential, as is providing the assistance and tools required to advance their well-being.

Despite the negative impact of the war on the mental health of university students, some positive effects have also been observed. The conflict has forced communities to come together to support one another, which has increased resilience and social cohesion. Studies have shown that social support can act as a buffer against the negative impact of traumatic events on mental health, promoting psychological well-being[5]. Furthermore, the war has strengthened Ukrainian students' sense of national identity and pride, which has resulted in increased national pride and a desire to defend their homeland in the face of external aggression. These benefits might help decrease some of the harmful consequences of the war on university students' mental health. This was the case that I witnessed. Right after the war started, Ukrainian students at my former university in Lithuania united as never before in the face of uncertainty. Moreover, the whole community where I lived expressed their support and care for all those students who are affected by this war. Even though there was so much pain and fear, the unity and understanding that I am not alone helped to ease the negative impact on my mental health. It's crucial to understand that the conflict has a complex and multifaceted influence on mental health and that in order to effectively enhance mental health and well-being among students affected by the war, interventions must take these elements into consideration.

The Ukrainian government and non-governmental organizations have recognized the mental health needs of university students affected by the conflict residing outside of Ukraine. NGOs such as the Ukrainian World Congress have established mental health programs to support Ukrainian and non-Ukrainian students affected by the conflict, regardless of their location. Furthermore, international organizations such as Red Cross launched programs aimed to support those in need with assistance ranging from humanitarian help to mental health services. My friends and I volunteered at the Red Cross, and, honestly, it felt like mental support as well because we were doing something very useful for those who were impacted the most. In addition, my former university in Lithuania also offered free counseling sessions for students to make sure that they always have someone to talk to if needed. These initiatives aim to address the mental health needs of university students affected by the conflict and ensure they have access to necessary mental health support and resources[6]. The efforts made by the government and NGOs to provide mental health support to students impacted by the war, regardless of their location, can have a significant positive impact on their mental health and well-being.

In my opinion, in order to guarantee that everyone impacted by the war, especially university students, has access to the resources and support they need to address their struggles with mental health, it is critical that governments continue to give mental health support a high priority. I believe this can entail raising the number of mental health clinics and services, educating teachers and healthcare professionals, and creating specialized treatments to cater to the unique mental health requirements of the afflicted students.

The occupation and violence caused by the war have resulted in increased trauma, displacement, and violence, leading to conditions such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD among students. Furthermore, the conflict has disrupted the education system, leading to stress, anxiety, and uncertainty among students, particularly those in their final year of study. The economic insecurity and social disruption caused by the conflict have also had a significant impact on the mental health of university students. Despite the negative effects, some positive outcomes of the conflict have emerged, including increased resilience and social cohesion among communities affected by the war. Furthermore, there has been an increase in national identity among Ukrainian students, as they rally around their country's flag and symbols in the face of external aggression. The conflict has also led to a greater focus on mental health issues among policymakers and healthcare providers in Ukraine, resulting in initiatives such as the establishment of mental health clinics in conflict-affected areas, mental health services through mobile clinics, and mental health support programs for universities.

The war in Ukraine has brought untold devastation and suffering to many people around the world. It has left many feeling hopeless and lost, wondering if there is any purpose left in life. But despite the darkness that surrounds us, it is up to each and every one of us to find something worth living for, no matter how difficult the times may be. We can choose to go out and do something useful such as volunteering to help those who were affected the most. We can choose to come together, to see each other, and to offer support and kindness to one another. It is only by doing so that we can begin to heal the wounds of war and move forward toward a brighter stronger future. So let us not be defeated by the horrors of war. Let us rise above them and find the strength within ourselves to carry on. Let us never forget the sacrifices that have been made and continue to be made every day by those who fight for Ukrainian freedom. And let us honor them by living our lives with purpose and meaning, no matter how difficult the path may be.

[1] Karatzias, et al. (2020). The role of post-traumatic stress symptomatology in mediating the relationship between exposure to trauma and emotional and behavioral problems among children and adolescents: A systematic review. Journal of Affective Disorders. https://bpspsychub.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/papt.12248 [2] United Nations. (2022). UN human rights chief warns of “massive impact” of renewed hostilities in eastern Ukraine. Retrieved from https://www.un.org/press/en/2022/ohrchr13778.doc.htm [3] Sheldon, E., Simmonds-Buckley, M., Bone, C., Mascarenhas, T., Chan, N., & Wincott, M. et al. (2021). Prevalence and risk factors for mental health problems in university undergraduate students: A systematic review with meta-analysis. Journal Of Affective Disorders, 287, 282-292. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2021.03.054 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0165032721002809 [4] Anjum, G., Aziz, M., & Hamid, H. K. (2023). Life and mental health in a limbo of the Ukraine war: How can helpers assist civilians, asylum seekers, and refugees affected by the war? Frontiers in Psychology, 14. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2023.1129299 [5] Cohen, S., & Wills, T. A. (1985). Stress, social support, and the buffering hypothesis. Psychological Bulletin, 98(2), 310-357 https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.98.2.310 [6] Ukrainian World Congress. (2022). Ukrainian World Congress mental health program. Retrieved from https://www.ukrainianworldcongress.org/programs/mental-health-program/


Written by Dmitrii Litvin Edited by Christine Nanteza

 

Dmitrii graduated in International Relations and Development and he is now a first-year HRG student. His dream is to work in the human rights field protecting political prisoners. Follow Dmitrii on Linkedin: Dmitrii Litvin and Instagram: dmittrylitvin


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