Ukrainians face strong psychological wounds from the Russian invasion

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The following essay is reprinted with permission from Conversationan online publication that covers recent research.

“Pauline came to our bedroom awakened by the sound of explosions. I didn’t know and didn’t know what to tell her. Her eyes today are full of fear and horror; in the eyes of us all. “

Alina, a family friend, marketer and mother of two from the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, who under the coverage of Russian troops– shared this reflection in her story on Instagram. Her daughter Pauline is 7 years old.

The an unprovoked attack Russian President Vladimir Putin’s army has left the world in disbelief about Ukraine’s sovereign nation. While it hurts to see the direct impact of this war on human lives and livelihoods, this invasion will also lead to less noticeable psychological wounds that may persist for generations.

I am a psychiatrist with experience post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, and stress. I. research trauma and treat civilians and refugees who suffered torture were injured as well as first service staff and veterans.

Citizens, defenseless

Until recently, Ukrainians lived a normal life. But that changed dramatically when, within weeks, they witnessed their country surrounded by Russia, armed with one of the deadliest armies in the world, led by an unpredictable authoritarian leader.

This fear and uncertainty was followed by direct threats to their lives and loved ones a complete invasion began On February 24, 2022, when Ukrainian cities were attacked, civilians witnessed explosions and deaths and began to experience immediate disruptions in basic resources, such as electricity, food and waterand problems with reliable communication with loved ones.

Ukrainians also feel a painful sense of injustice and injustice, as they are unjustifiably threatened by the hard-earned democracy and freedom, leaving some feelings insufficiently supported by their allies.

There are plenty research that such difficult experiences can lead to severe consequences including PTSD, depression and anxiety. Symptoms of PTSD include horrific and realistic reflections on military scenes, obsessive memories of trauma, panic, inability to fall asleep and nightmares, and avoidance of anything resembling trauma. The prevalence of these conditions is there higher in man-made disasters than, for example, natural disasters. For example, a third of U.S. civilians who have been the subject of a single mass shooting incident may develop full-scale PTSD.

At the moment about 1 million Ukrainians fled from their homes, cities and work for security to Poland and other Eastern European countries. More people were internally displaced. They have limited resources as refugees and are unsure of the future – chronic stress that harms their mental health.

Studies by our group and others show this PTSD affects from a third up to one half adult refugees. In one study I conducted, published in 2019, more than 40% of adult Syrian refugees who relocated to the United States experienced high anxiety, and almost half had depression. Another study in 2019 found high prevalence of PTSD – 27% – and depression – 21% – among 1.5 million internally displaced Ukrainians due to the recent invasion of Russia and insurgents in eastern Ukraine in 2014.

Children are especially vulnerable. Imagine the horror a child faces in a dark basement watching the faces of their parents praying to the next rocket will not hit their building. Parents can to some extent protect their children from injury, but they can only do a great deal. In my team’s study of Syrian and Iraqi refugees resettled in Michigan, we found that about half of the children felt highly anxious. Up to 70% of refugee children interviewed by our team survived separation anxiety upon arrival in the United States These children are often so frightened that they cannot leave their parents, even if they are no longer in imminent danger.

Ukrainians are fleeing the city of Irpen.
In March, Ukrainians fled the city of Irpen northwest of Kiev. Credit: Dietmar Dilkaff / AFP via Getty Images

Trauma can also be passed from parents to their current and future children through subtle but hereditary changes in the genome and as an effect of the constant anxiety of parents caused by military experience. In this way, suffering can be passed down through the generations. Childhood trauma also increases the likelihood of many mental and physical health problems in adulthood like depression, PTSD, chronic pain, heart disease and diabetes.

Importantly, unpublished data from our study show that especially in the case of military trauma, many people do not recover within three years of trauma unless proper support and mental health are available.

Of course, not all trauma sufferers develop PTSD. Individual genetic differences and support for the environment, as well as personal past experiences and the closeness and severity of the trauma – all affect who is most affected. Someone is getting better, and someone come out stronger and more resilient psychologically. But human tolerance for horrific experiences is limited.

Those with their heads in danger to save others

Police, firefighters, dispatchers and paramedics are facing the most ugly results of the wars. They endure long hours of physically and emotionally strenuous work and often see scenes of death and suffering, while having the same concerns of other civilians about their own families. Studies show that PTSD affects 15% to 20% fire and other emergency services in peacetime. Ukrainian rapid response services, which still have to help affected civilians and extinguish burning buildings, find it much harder to do their very difficult job while under fire themselves.

Veterans of hostilities also face unimaginable injuries; in the US about 12-30% of combat veterans PTSD experience. Ukraine has a disproportionately large lack of protection and firepower of Ukrainian forces against the aggressor increases the risk of harm and casualties and may worsen the mental health consequences of their injury.

Given human suffering in numbers, as I did here, by no means means turning human tragedy into a cold statistical concept. The goal is to show the enormous impact of such a disaster. Every lost life or livelihood is a tragedy in itself.

“The most difficult thing for me is to accept that I am a refugee,” the Ukrainian wrote on Instagram. “My apartment is in Kyiv and my family is in Kyiv. There all my life and work… My daughter and I went on vacation. I went without anything. All my child’s documents, except for his passport and birth certificate, are in Ukraine, and it is difficult to accept. “

But the resilience and determination of the Ukrainian people are formidable. She wrote about what she focused on, as well as many others who fled, on returning home to clean up and rebuild. “I really want to go home.”

This article was originally published on Conversation. Read original article.

Ukrainians face strong psychological wounds from the Russian invasion

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