Ukraine's epidemic trauma
With a war that has killed over 10000 people and wounded other 20000 since it began in April 2014, Ukraine is facing an epidemic of post traumatic stress. “Every soldier who has been under fire on the front line has some stress reactions”, said Col. Dr. Vsevolod Stebliuk, the advisor for the Ministry of Defence on military medicine and rehabilitation. “From my experience, near 50% of the soldiers who took part in ATO need psychological help. It is not only PTSD. For PTSD, in our opinion and that of the Ukrainian Research Institute of Social Psychiatry, is near 20%.”
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But soldiers in Ukraine, with any kind of psychological disorders are reluctant to seek help from psychologists. There are many reasons why. Some run away from the stigma surrounding any mental health problem. Others are convinced psychologists are just not prepared and cannot understand them because they have not experienced war. Some would rather talk to volunteers or priests, while others just don’t acknowledge they have a problem.
“Before this war we had no experience in the psychological support of veterans. The last experience was with the Soviet Union Afghan Company, but that was 30 years ago”, said Col. Stebliuk. “Now, the system of preparing specialists starts from zero. We have more than 24,000 psychologists with a diploma, but I think only 1000 of them can work with veterans.” Just outside Kiev, at Irpin military hospital, Col. Dr. Vsevolod Stebliuk established the first complex centre for physical and psychological rehabilitation of war veterans in Ukraine. Since it was opened on April 25th, more than 500 soldiers had complex rehabilitation care there.
Understating the idea that soldiers distrust psychologists’ ability to help due to the lack of war experience, the Wounded Warrior Ukraine NGO started organising trainings for extreme psychology and PTSD. The objective is to train Ukrainian servicemen as Combat Shock Trainers, to teach participants proven methods to combat military-induced psychological shock and PTSD.
“Many soldiers cannot open to strangers, to psychologists or shrinks, but they can open to their comrades. We start to create a hidden link in the system: people among veterans who can meet soldiers when they come back from the war, the first link between civilians and soldiers”, says Oleh Hukovskyy, psychiatrist, psychotherapist and lead trainer with the Wounded Warrior Ukraine.
Small steps in dealing with this epidemic are being made, but still, the Ukrainian society is not prepared to embrace these soldiers with all their problems.