At the training base of the Ukrainian army in the Zaporizhzhia region, not only do they shoot, but psychologists also work alongside the military instructors.
“Remember the most important things: sight, hearing, touch. You must be able to wake up a person whose brain has been disabled by shock,” instructed psychologist Oleksandr.
In training, soldiers learn not only military maneuvers, but also the ability to react in cases of psychological crises. It is also becoming an increasingly urgent need on the battlefield.
“It really helps. When a person doesn’t understand what’s happening, self-preservation kicks in. It’s good if you know how to calm yourself down. Most likely, there would be fewer deaths if people talked to psychologists more,” assessed Ukrainian soldier Artyom.
Each brigade of the forces of the Ukrainian army has a mobile team of psychologists who not only train soldiers, but also help those who need therapy. The traumatic experience of the front creates a long list of mental health problems – soldiers suffer from shock, aggression, anxiety, depression, insomnia.
“Imagine you have a gun. If you don’t clean it, what happens? It doesn’t work. We say the same thing about the psyche. If you don’t work on it, you lock yourself in and become a psychiatric patient,” explained psychologist Oleksandr.
Alarm bells about a mental health crisis not only in the military, but also in the civilian population in Ukraine have been ringing for quite some time.
Research conducted half a year after the start of the war showed that a third of Ukrainians suffer from anxiety, more than 40% have symptoms of depression, and about 70% struggle with stress.
One of the most vulnerable groups are children, whose psyche is still developing. Most of them are traumatized, some have had to leave their homes, and almost all of them have been separated from their fathers, who are conscripted into the army, for months.
Nine-year-old Nastya was only four months old when war broke out in her town. After Russian forces started shelling the eastern Donbass in 2014, she and her mother Svitlana left the region.
To help overcome her daughter’s injuries, Svitlan takes her to dog therapy every week.
“Nastya’s mood changes. She is satisfied with this contact. I can see that she would like to spend more time with this dog. Her mood has completely changed after that,” said Nastya’s mother Svitlana.
And this is far from the only place to look for support. For the purposes of mental health prevention, a special organization was also created – “Sane Ukraine” or “For a mentally healthy Ukraine”.
The psychologists and psychotherapists behind this project not only help people directly, but also regularly train others to help.