Looming mental health crisis for 1.5 million Ukrainian children

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

World Vision report warns of war’s devastating long-term impacts

From the report:

  • Children’s mental health is top concern for Ukrainian parents, new World Vision report finds
  • Studies show 22 per cent of people in conflict zones suffer mental disorders
  • Prevention programs must be urgently prioritised

July 5, 2022 – The horrors of the war in Ukraine is leaving a generation of children scarred, with 1.5 million children in danger of issues including anxiety, depression and social impairment, a new World Vision report warns.

The No Peace of Mind report, launched today by the international humanitarian organisation, has sounded the alarm on a looming crisis as Ukrainian parents reveal the mental health of their children is their biggest worry.

World Vision says without swift intervention across Ukraine and countries hosting refugees, the mental wounds of war could affect children well into adulthood and lead to a workforce crippled by mental disorders in 15 years.

The report highlights devastating stories of children crying through the night, being able to name the different types of weapons used in conflict and feeling too frightened to sleep.

Catherine Green, Ukraine Country Director for World Vision’s Ukraine Crisis Response, said it was crucial that mental health prevention services for children and families were prioritised before it was too late.

“World Vision is concerned that the war is subjecting children to constant fear and hopelessness, increasing their immediate stress responses and as a consequence their risk for a range of mental disorders, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, and anxiety,” she said.

“That’s why we are boosting our psychosocial programming in the coming months, but we can’t do this alone. We know from experience in places like Syria and South Sudan that proper investment in mental health and other services is vital if children are to overcome the trauma they have suffered.”  

The use of artillery, mortars and military force puts children at risk of death and injury, and also threatens their emotional wellbeing. Exposure to airstrikes, bombing and crude military violence can destroy a child’s sense of security, which is fundamental for healthy childhood development. And nearly two thirds of Ukraine’s children have been forced to leave their homes with the associated trauma of being ripped away from their support networks in unfamiliar countries or towns and for many, separated from family members.

In interviews with Ukrainian children and carers crossing the border into Romania, children repeatedly told World Vision staff of feeling scared and distressed every time they heard an airstrike.

“It was scary, very scary,” says Polina, 12, from Mariupol. “Every day we heard the sounds of airplanes, tanks and shooting in the streets. A rocket blew up near our garden. One house was on fire and the walls fell. There was ash all over the city. It was time to leave.”

One mother told World Vision staff that her family left Ukraine’s east largely due to their concerns for the mental health of her children and grandchildren, who had been subjected to war for eight years.

“You know at first children were scared. They had trauma,” said Iryna, who has taken refuge at a church building in Chernivtsi run by one of World Vision’s partners, Arms of Mercy.

“But then I noticed that the children they were not even reacting when there was bombing. And it was also a shock to me. I couldn’t understand how kids do not react.  They could exactly say what weapon it was. And that’s the scariest thing that the kids are getting used to it.”

Ms Green said spending just US$50 per person now could prevent more than 1 million conflict-affected people[2] developing more complex mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder.

Previous studies have shown us that more than 22% of conflict-affected populations may end up with some form of mental health disorder. In the context of Ukraine, that would mean about 4.5 million people – 1.5 million[3] of them children - and the number is growing daily.

“Children are resilient and they can be protected from any lasting affects with the right support[4],” she said. “The good news is that the outpouring of generosity towards the people of Ukraine means we are in a rare position in this emergency: there are funds for programming to protect children’s mental health, and that of their caregivers. But it needs to be prioritised and funded now across Ukraine and host countries.”


To download the report, go to https://www.wvi.org/publications/report/ukraine/no-peace-mind

For further information or to organise an interview, please contact:  Elissa Doherty at elissa.doherty@worldvision.com.au.

Notes to Editor

World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organisation dedicated to working with children, families and their communities to reach their full potential by tackling the root causes of poverty and injustice. World Vision serves all people, regardless of religion, race, ethnicity or gender.  For more information, please visit www.wvi.org or follow us on Twitter @WorldVision  


[1] https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpsy/article/PIIS2215-0366(16)30024-4/fulltext

[2] 5 1,060,521 people; Assuming prevalence of 5.1% in conflict affected populations for severe mental health disorders per the Lancet and using the figure of 15.7 million in need inside Ukraine and 5,094,531refugees as of 14 June.

[3] Assuming prevalence of 22.1% in conflict affected populations per the Lancet and using the figure of 15.7 million in need inside Ukraine, 5,094,531 refugees as of 14 June, and a household size of 3. 

[4] Fiona Charlson, Mark van Ommeren, Abraham Flaxman, Joseph Cornett, Harvey Whiteford, Shekhar Saxena, “New WHO prevalence estimates of mental disorders in conflict settings: a systematic review and meta-analysis,” Lancet 2019; 394: 240–48, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(19)30934-1