Javid urged to do more on mental health as Ukrainian hurt ‘will be felt for generations’

Zelensky accuses Russia of terrorising civilians in southern Ukraine

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Mental health charity Mind has said that part of the Government’s 10-year mental health plan – for which it recently launched a call for evidence – “must be a commitment to investing in mental health services – including tailored support for refugees”. It comes as mental health advice for health workers dealing with Ukrainian refugees, prepared by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), laid bare the profound and widespread mental impact war would have.

It noted that “conservative estimates” suggested that at least 30 percent of all refugees will develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at some point – while other estimates indicate near 70 percent will.

UKHSA said that “escaping war will contribute to psychological stress and mental health issues” which “may not manifest until weeks after displacement”.

It added that “children may be particularly vulnerable”, and observed that many of the Ukrainian refugees arriving in the UK were young people, women and children.

UKHSA asked primary care workers to assess refugees wellbeing using a “trauma-informed approach”, and make necessary referrals.

Speaking exclusively to Express.co.uk, Stephen Buckley, head of information at Mind, said: “It’s crucial that refugees arriving from Ukraine and other war zones receive tailored mental health support which recognises and responds to the trauma they’ve experienced.

“While the need for this better, tailored support isn’t new – recent events have drawn much-needed and overdue attention to it.”

He added: “As an immediate step, it also needs to be recognised that the process of accessing healthcare can be extremely complex for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants.

“When we’re struggling with our mental health it can be difficult to know where and how to seek help. And this can be even more confusing when we’re trying to navigate a complex immigration system and understand what our rights are.”

In its call for evidence, the Government says that its 10-year plan for mental health will “level up mental health across the country and put mental and physical health on an equal footing”.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid commented: “Too many people, particularly our children and young people, do not have the tools and support they need to look after their wellbeing or prevent mental health problems from escalating.

“We all have a role to play in resetting the way we approach mental health and our new 10-year plan will set an ambitious agenda for where we want the mental health of the nation to be a decade from now.”

Mr Buckley said that “a key part of this must be a commitment to investing in mental health services – including tailored support for refugees and asylum seekers”.

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When asked to comment, a Government spokesperson said: “We recognise the trauma faced by the people of Ukraine and continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with them in the face of Russia’s appalling invasion.

“Ukrainians fleeing their home country will be guaranteed free access to NHS healthcare, including mental health care services and registration with a GP.”

The war in Ukraine is likely to make an already dim situation darker when it comes to the nation’s mental health.

UKHSA estimates that even before the invasion, Ukraine had a higher suicide rate than the average for eastern Europe, and far above the global average. As of 2019, the World Health Organisation put Ukraine’s suicide rate at 21.6 per 100,000, down from 39.1 in 2000, but still way beyond the global average of 10.4 per 100,000.

Ukraine unfortunately has a particularly high rate of suicide among men, UKHSA reported, with an average of 56.7 suicides per 100,000 men compared with 8.4 per 100,000 women.

While many of the nation’s women, children and elderly have fled to neighbouring countries, the Ukrainian Government very early on in the war ordered able-bodied men to remain to fight. It is feared they will bear the brunt of the mental impact of an already bloody and violent war.

UKHSA noted that Ukrainian men “also have a higher estimated prevalence of alcohol use disorders than women”, with approximately 11.5 percent of men having a disorder compared to 1.4 percent of women.

Mr Buckley said that the “people in Ukraine are currently experiencing horrors that, for many of us in England and Wales, are significantly far removed from our own experiences.

“The hurt of these experiences will be felt by those in Ukraine for generations, both mentally and physically.”

He pointed to a WHO report which found that among those who had experience conflict in the past decade, more than one in five would have depression, anxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

Asked if the UK should expect to see a higher rate of suicides as a result of the conflict in Ukraine, Mr Buckley responded: “The reasons why someone takes their own life can be complex”, adding that it would be “unhelpful to speculate”.

Mental Health Awareness week starts today, May 9.

The Samaritans is available 24/7 if you need to talk. You can contact them for free by calling 116 123, email [email protected] or head to the website to find your nearest branch.

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