After ten months of relocation, loss, and hope, Ukrainians are more or less settled in their new homes in the Netherlands, with houses, work, insurance, and education for their children. While this may seem like a good moment to recharge and relax, it is also a time when anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorders, and other mental health conditions may arise.
Pharos, an organization working towards an inclusive society with equal opportunities for optimal health, has noticed an increased need for mental health support during this settling-in period. In fact, they predict that the number of mental illnesses may increase to 13-25% during this time. At the same time, not all Ukrainians (or other newcomers) ask for mental health support.
Why is it uncommon for Ukrainian people to seek mental health support?
Based on our research and observations, as well as the comments of mental health specialists, we have noticed that Ukrainian people often do not seek mental health support due to three main stigmas:
- The belief that “I am strong and can handle everything.”
- The belief that “I am not crazy, so I don’t need help.”
- The idea is that mental health support is costly.
While it is true that Ukrainians are a strong and resilient nation (having endured eleven months of non-stop war), it is also essential to recognize that mental health problems can affect not just the individual’s life, but also relationships, work, and children.
Therapists who work with Ukrainian newcomers divide these individuals into three groups:
- Those who are so exhausted from fighting that they can no longer accept help.
- Those who are too shy, humble, or unaware that asking for help is an option.
- Those who are so desperate for help that are ready to take any assistance offered.
Based on the groups of Ukrainian newcomers identified by therapists and the resources available in the Netherlands, Open Embassy has determined 2 ways for Ukrainian newcomers to access mental health support.
Ways for Ukrainian newcomers in the Netherlands to access mental health support:
- Psychosocial support — a preventive-volunteering service to treat the trauma and diagnose.
Since the start of the war in Ukraine, many European countries have developed support programs for Ukrainian newcomers, including mental health support. As a result, many organizations and volunteers are now willing to help Ukrainian people with any requests, whether or not they are related to the war. To access this support, the person can register on the platform and briefly describe their situation. They will then receive a response from a specialist and may be able to receive 1-4 free sessions to address their request. Some suggested platforms include:
- You can receive at least 5 free sessions in Ukrainian or Russian.
- You can select a specialist after registering on the platform.
- You can receive 4 free sessions of 40-60 minutes each in English online.
- Prices for treatment are listed on the website, but you can use the hashtag #therapistforukraine to find specialists willing to provide free support to Ukrainian people.
- Briefly describe your request with your name and mobile number, and a therapist will contact you.
- Choose a specialist based on their description and apply. The specialist will then contact you.
- Sessions are free, but the specialist will determine the number of sessions.
Accessing mental health support through local communities:
Many Ukrainian newcomers in the Netherlands have formed local communities, which provide opportunities for networking, recreational activities for children and adults, and mental health support. To access this support, a person can join the group, follow announcements for therapeutic meetings, sign up to attend, and participate in activities such as yoga, art therapy, and mindfulness-based stress reduction programs. For example, the UWRA_Netherlands community in Amsterdam is very active and offers a variety of therapeutic activities.
Receiving mental health support from individual volunteer psychologists:
Many specialists are willing to provide mental health support, but it is essential to carefully research their background, education, and years of experience before beginning therapy. To receive support from an individual volunteer psychologist, you can send a short message describing your concerns and the issues you would like to address. You can then agree on a suitable time for an online meeting and the number of sessions the specialist will provide, either for free or on a paid basis.
Receiving mental health support from local specialist groups online:
Some specialists have formed groups where people can request and receive direct mental health support. To access this support, you can follow the instructions provided by the group.
One way to access mental health support from local specialist groups is to join the “Ukrainian therapists in the Netherlands” group and submit your request. A specialist will then contact you through private messages to schedule a time and frequency for sessions and discuss the type of therapy most suitable for your needs.
Engaging in activities with other people to support mental health:
Participating in activities that are different from work and problem-solving can have a positive impact on mental health. These activities can be anything you enjoy, such as yoga, drawing, light jogging or walking, or book clubs. Finding time or energy to participate in these activities may be challenging. Still, you will likely notice a positive impact on your mental health after participating in just one event. One way to find these types of activities is to join the Ukrainian community Kolo, which is based in Amsterdam and focuses on networking and support activities for the Ukrainian people. These activities include webinars on adapting to a new society, book discussions, acupuncture sessions, and more.
“Important note: volunteering services can’t be measured for their quality. Are they educated enough and equipped enough to treat trauma? Once specialists see more severe symptoms that can affect daily functioning, it’s super important to go to the GP, get a referral letter, and get referred to the companies that work with insurance”. — Maria Shaidrova, Opora Foundation.
2 — Professional psychological treatment based on trauma.
In the Netherlands, the healthcare system operates differently than in Ukraine. One of the first steps to accessing medical treatment (other than over-the-counter medications such as paracetamol and supplements) is visiting a family doctor. To do this, the person should call the huisarts’s assistant, describe their condition, and make an appointment with the doctor. During the appointment, the person can explain their situation and request professional psychological support.
For example: “I become hyperactive and cannot sleep after being exposed to loud noises. I want to receive therapy to help me become calmer.” Unfortunately, the waiting time for professional therapeutic support can be up to six months, and therapy is usually conducted in English, although Ukrainian-speaking specialists may be available.
“While the patient is waiting for specialized psychological support, the family doctor might suggest seeing a “POH” specialist for in-house psychological sessions. Waiting time for the POH mental health specialist is much shorter, and often an intake is possible on a short notice. Also, GP’s and POHs might use interpreters for this service.” — Heleen Koudijs, Pharos.
Mental health treatment is covered by basic insurance in the Netherlands and the patient can be referred to the companies that are specialized in treating trauma. Trauma therapy choice is one of those. In addition, the family doctor can also offer medical support in the form of antidepressants and tranquilizers to help the body cope during difficult times.
Mental health is just as important as physical health and can significantly impact the quality of our lives and the lives of those around us. Unfortunately, nobody was prepared for war or the various challenges that come with it, so it is crucial to prioritize mental health and seek help when needed. Seeking psychological support is just as normal as visiting the dentist. It is also normal to change specialists if you feel uncomfortable or see no improvement after providing feedback.
We hope the resources provided in this article will help you find the support you need to adjust to your new situation. If you have additional questions about integration and adaptation in the Netherlands, don’t hesitate to contact us through our 24/7 helpdesk.