The number of calls to our psychosocial hotline increased by 73 % after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, says People in Need’s psychologist

Published: Jul 12, 2022 Reading time: 8 minutes
The number of calls to our psychosocial hotline increased by 73 % after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, says People in Need’s psychologist
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Olena Kravtsova has worked as a psychologist in People in Need’s mobile team since 2015, and now she works as the coordinator for People in Need’s psychosocial support activities in Ukraine. Nowadays, she is leading a mobile team of 14 psychologists providing support in 4 oblasts of Ukraine and 10 psychologists offering support through a nationwide hotline. "Hotline psychologists receive up to 50 calls per day. The number of calls increased by more than 73 %," she shares, describing the situation after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Kravtsova adds that people will need psychological support for at least another 5 years after the end of the war.

You’ve been working as People in Need’s psychologist for a long time. How has the psychological well-being of the people you meet daily changed before and after the Russian invasion of Ukraine?

The war has changed a lot. There’s collective psychological trauma at the state level. People have been plunged into a whole range of situations where there is horror, panic, shock, confusion, rejection of the situation, fear of sudden death, and loss of relatives, friends, property...

Many have become internally displaced and left their homes, some have already lost their home and the opportunity to return, some have lost contact with relatives, and some have lost loved ones and are experiencing grief. All these events, complicated by the lack of safety and confidence in the future, have a serious negative impact on the mental and physical health of the people I work with.

Speaking about well-being, all the areas of well-being have disruptions at different levels. Basic needs are not being met and there is no unconditional security in the entire territory of Ukraine.

How you would describe the psychological impact of the war on the people we are supporting?

Various reactions to stressful situations are identified among those impacted – starting from freezing up, to expressions of external aggression, and auto-aggression.

On the one hand, there is a lot of sadness and apathy related to fatigue caused by the protracted war, due to uncomfortable living conditions, lack of work, and uncertainty for the future. The plans that were built before the war are destroyed and it’s not possible to plan ahead. The homes of many people have been destroyed or damaged.

On the other hand, there is a lot of aggression. Many people who were pulled out from under the rubble and who fled under shelling have lost their documents. And for many, the waiting time to renew the documents is more than one month. The passport manufacturing plant has been destroyed and this has caused major problems. People are waiting long weeks before receiving their documents, and without these documents, there is no chance to receive cash aid payments. It turns into a vicious cycle where people aren’t able to influence their situation and this causes a lot of anger.

In addition, there is a language issue in the western part of the country, and cases of bullying and mobbing are already being recorded. We expect this problem to intensify in September when the school year begins.

Anxiety, fear, uncertainty, difficulty in adapting…

Do you think that psychological support will be needed more in the near future?

Yes, of course, the needs will only grow, and changes will be possible only with complete security. People need to have their basic needs met.

What are the main problems people are sharing with People in Need’s psychological teams in the field?

The main problems are anxiety, fear of the future, the uncertainty of the future, complaints about their physical condition, depression, lesser control over their emotions, apathy, sadness, aggression, irritation, difficulty in adapting, wanting to go home, searching for friends and loved ones, conflicts with the local population due to language barriers, fear of losing property, the experience of loss, sadness due to loss of loved ones, severance of family ties, lack of work, and dissatisfaction with living conditions.

How many PIN psychologists are now working across Ukraine?

As of today, we have 14 psychologists in mobile teams and 10 psychologists on the psychosocial support hotline 0800210160.

How many regions of Ukraine are covered by PIN psychological services/teams now?

The hotline operates at the national level throughout Ukraine. Mobile teams work in 4 oblasts: Lviv, Ternopil, Kirovohrad and Dnipro. In addition, we provide support through our partners in 3 oblasts: Mykolaiv in Lviv oblast, Khmelnytska, and Chernivetska oblasts.

Do you plan to extend your geographical coverage?

Yes, we plan to include psychological support in all of the regions where we have a presence.

Who are the main clients of our psychological services? Is the focus mainly on displaced people or also on hosting communities?

If we talk about the hotline – our clients are all the inhabitants of Ukraine. Our mobile teams work mainly in collective centers for internally displaced people; besides this, we provide support to both volunteers and host communities, as they also often require assistance.

Do your teams offer psychological support to children? In what way is the work with them different?

Yes, of course. Children are one of the most vulnerable categories. Our work is different and is built in accordance with age characteristics and perception abilities.

Psychologists use the same skills and tools that they provide to people. Personally, I practice meditation and use grounding techniques. Breathing exercises help a lot.

How do you choose what location will be visited by our team of psychologists?

The service of a psychologist is included in the makeup of our general humanitarian response, if the need for psychological support is identified during the needs assessment at the location - we definitely provide it.

Do people understand what psychological support means and what the benefits are? Or does it take some time before they start to share their problems?

It really depends, some people are aware of their psychological needs and immediately respond, while others need preliminary group sessions to build confidence in the psychologist. Psychological education sessions are very useful in this case, where people begin to distinguish a psychiatrist from a psychologist and what can be expected from working with a psychologist.

After consultations, people’s emotional state becomes more stable

What is usually the feedback of people on psychological support?

After the consultations, people said that thanks to the tools and skills for self-regulation they received, their emotional stress, anxiety level, and muscle tension decreased. They noted an improvement in their mood and their emotional state became more stable.

How many counselling sessions are you usually organizing in one collective centre? How often is your team returning to the same place?

Support is offered according to the needs of the population; it all depends on the number of residents in one collective center and how long they stay there. There are places where people live up to 5 days, someone leaves, someone comes.

Are you organizing individual counselling as well?

Of course, we focus on them in crisis counselling.

How you are working with people who have serious psychological problems and need long-term professional support?

If we see that our support is not enough, we refer them to specialized professionals from other organizations.

You said that 10 of People in Need’s psychologists are providing support via hotline 0800210160. How many calls are they receiving every day?

Hotline psychologists receive up to 50 calls per day, usually more than 300 per week and on average 1,300 per month.

Did the number of calls increase after the Russian invasion of Ukraine?

Yes, the number of calls increased by more than 73%.

What are the main problems people are sharing via this hotline?

From the first days, they shared shock, panic, decision-making issues during the evacuation, suicidal thoughts, despair, and all kinds of fears...

Helping others is a source of energy for psychologists

Listening to stories of people fleeing war every day could be really demanding. How do you relax?

Psychologists have the opportunity to receive supervision support in a group format and individually in unlimited quantity. In addition, they use the same skills and tools that they provide to people. Personally, I practice meditation and use grounding techniques. Breathing exercises help a lot.

PIN psychologists interact with people who have been displaced by the war, separated from their families etc. Where is your source of energy to continue and help others?

Helping others is what gives me energy as a psychologist.

Are you providing the opportunity for psychological support to colleagues within People in Need’s team? Are they using this offer?

Yes, we offer this kind of support and have already organized several group meetings.

How long do you think people in Ukraine will need professional psychological support to deal with the trauma of war?

At least another 5 years after the end of the war. The trauma of war is cured over several years, provided that the person is already safe and living under normal conditions, including economic stability.

People in Need’s assistance to people in Ukraine is possible thanks to donations from the public and private sector to PIN Ukraine Emergency Appeal, financial contributions from Alliance2015, CARE, Stichting Vluchteling, King Baudouin Foundation, Avast Endowment Fund – Stichting Avast and partnership with international non-governmental organizations and institutional donors European Union, Ukraine Humanitarian Fund, USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic or World Food Programme.

Author: Petr Štefan, Alyona Budagovska, People in Need

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