Prioritise mental health support for Ukrainians arriving in UK, experts say

Refugees fleeing the war 'will need immediate access to services'

The damage and violence people have seen will be brought with them, mental health experts say. Getty
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Refugees fleeing the Ukraine war will need immediate access to mental health services, experts have warned.

Tackling issues including anxiety and fear is important in trying to prevent people developing mental health problems.

The UK has issued 9,500 visas to Ukrainians with family ties to the UK. Other refugees are being accepted under a scheme to house them with volunteers, of which 150,000 people have expressed an interest in acting as hosts. A group of 50 orphans was expected to land on Monday.

As part of the emergency refugee operation, some immediate access to the UK’s benefits system has been arranged.

“Depending on where you are in Ukraine, at the moment you may be experiencing absolutely catastrophic, direct, traumatic events occurring: loss of homes, having no electricity, no water, deaths of people around you, being injured yourself,” said Prof Jonathan Bisson, professor in psychiatry at Cardiff University.

“And if that’s not happening to you, or your town, or where you live at the moment, then clearly there must be a major fear that that will happen in the near future. Any response right from the word go, needs to be trauma informed.

“Establishing people in communities, getting community support, establishing good social networks for people and with people — these are absolutely fundamental to people’s longer term prospects in terms of their mental health and well-being.”

About 150,000 Britons have registered their interest in taking in Ukrainians.

The Ukraine Family Scheme aims to match refugees with individuals, charities and other organisations who can provide accommodation for at least six months, enabling Ukrainians without family ties in the UK to enter the country.

But they will also need access to mental health professionals.

“There is the concern that lots of well-meaning but untrained counsellors and other kind people will want to help, but for refugees with a high level of trauma it is possible to do more harm when you don’t understand exactly what is needed,” said Dr Noreen Tehrani, a member of the British Psychological Society’s crisis, disaster and trauma section.

“The extremely traumatised women and children who arrive from Ukraine will need significant professional support to come to terms with all they have endured,” said Kama Petruczenko, of the Refugee Council.

People fleeing from the invasion will be able to claim benefits immediately under new emergency rules, including disability and carer payments, from day one.

They will also be eligible for child disability living allowance and carer’s allowance, the Department for Work and Pensions said.

“It’s absolutely critical that we help refugees to recover from the trauma they’ve experienced, and that we identify those in need of additional specialist mental health support,” said Dr Adrian James, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Updated: March 21, 2022, 12:11 PM