Mental health professionals volunteer their services to provide trauma support to Ukrainian Canadians and newcomers fleeing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Shortly after the war began in late February, Alexandra Froese began hearing from Ukrainian Canadians seeking support as they watched and mourned their beleaguered homeland.
“They feel tremendous distress and helplessness watching the events unfold or … supporting their family members who come here, or mourning the loss of family members,” Froese said.
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“Ukrainians who are in Canada may need as much support as Ukrainians who come here.
Froese, who was born and raised in Ukraine, is a licensed psychologist based in Saskatoon. She said that while her parents still in Ukraine are physically safe, she is not immune to the grief that Ukrainian Canadians feel.
She wanted to use her experience in the areas of trauma and grief to help her people.
“I feel empowered by what I can do or at least try to do here.”
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Froese began volunteering. She said she created a self-help manual, written in Ukrainian, and provided it to organizations helping people fleeing the Eastern European country. She is also working with a group of volunteers to create a website with easily accessible mental health resources.
Providing individuals with basic mental health information and education can help them feel settled and safe, Froese said.
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“After traumatic events, many of us can recover quite quickly and perhaps with minimal support. (This) is a bit more about triaging and triaging people’s needs.
Dr. Dillon Browne, Canada Research Chair in Clinical Child and Family Psychology at the University of Waterloo, has been following how social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok portray war.
Browne has done extensive research on children’s mental health, including the effects of digital media.
He discovered that people in Ukraine were posting videos or live streaming graphic attacks.
“There’s a lot of really heavy stuff out there,” Browne said in a phone interview with The Canadian Press. “It made me wonder if there’s anything we can do.”
The level of vulnerability varies among people who view war content online, Browne said. He pointed out that it is not uncommon for children to have nightmares about disturbing things they see in the media.
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Browne decided to reach out to colleagues in Ontario to gauge their interest in volunteering support. He found the response to be overwhelmingly favorable.
“We were skeptical whether there would be an appetite for it due to the fatigue everyone is going through (during the COVID-19 pandemic),” he said. “It seems (the invasion) has stirred something up in people because it’s such a blatant and terrible situation.”
The Canadian Psychological Association has taken up Browne’s initiative and is developing a list of psychologists across the country who are willing to offer their services to Ukrainian-Canadians who feel distressed by the war.
The association says there are significant barriers to psychological services in Canada, including those related to insurance coverage, supply and wait times.
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Elsewhere in Canada, efforts to mobilize mental health support for Ukrainians coming to Canada are underway.
The Alberta Psychological Association commissioned one of its members to create a directory of mental health supports for newcomers. She also invites psychologists who wish to volunteer to contact the Canadian association.
The Center for Refugee Resilience, through the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society, helps people supporting Ukrainian families. The center helps immigrants, refugees and their families who may be dealing with trauma.
The need for groups to work together to ensure mental health supports are included in resettlement efforts points to a larger problem, Browne said _ a lack of publicly funded mental health programs in the country .
“The fact that we had to do something like this tells you that our system is broken.”
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