Rethinking Mental Health Services Together: IOM Empowered 145 Ukrainian Specialists to Learn on Advanced Psychosocial Care in Vilnius

Vilnius, Lithuania – International Organization for Migration (IOM), Missions in Ukraine and Lithuania, supported 145 specialists working with war-affected people across Ukraine to join the international Rethinking Mental Health Care conference focusing on enhancing accessible and acceptable mental health care. For selected participants from Ukraine – health and mental health professionals, social workers, researchers, and practitioners from civil society organizations and psychiatric institutions – five thematic workshops on providing psychological support for people during the wartime were organized prior to the conference with the financial support of the Government and People of Japan.

“The conference itself calls for rethinking of mental health. Today, I hope to rethink friendship, how powerful it is and how much it can bring. Lithuania and Ukraine are everywhere together – in the war, and in solving health issues,'' said the Minister of Health of Lithuania, Dr. Arūnas Dulkys opening the event that brought more than 40 renowned speakers to Vilnius on 8 September. 

Mass displacement and conflict-related mental health issues are challenges met by many countries worldwide, whose experience in mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) field may be beneficial for Ukraine. In Vilnius, experts from Georgia, the country that also faced the war back in 2008, shared with Ukrainian colleagues their best practices in psychosocial response to disasters, evidence-based trauma therapy, as well as transfer from trauma to resilience and prevention of professional burnout. 

“New knowledge in mental health is very important for Ukraine, particularly examples of countries that witnessed a post-conflict recovery,” said a Ukrainian participant Vita Sydorenko who is working in the Project Office for the implementation of the National Programme for Mental Health and Psychosocial Support, initiated by the First Lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska. 

The follow-up conference with lectures, symposiums, workshops and debate sessions has become a platform for innovative ideas, advances, and knowledge exchange in the mental health field – from current challenges in mental health and compulsory treatment to new and alternative methods of care. 

“Evidence-based approach, advanced knowledge and experience of other countries from the region in emergency mental health are crucial to enhance community-based approaches to mental health and psychosocial support, to strengthen the participants' ability to provide direct support to Ukrainians needing urgent help because of the war,” explained Hatem Marzouk, psychosocial project manager at IOM Ukraine

The full-scale invasion that uprooted millions of people in Ukraine in the past six months, also has a profound impact on the mental health of those who are coping with the extreme war-related stress. Seeking for psychosocial support is on rise as 31 per cent of the internally displaced persons in Ukraine surveyed by IOM requested a free psychological support hotline number.  
IOM’s MHPSS response in Ukraine includes operations of the Emotional Support Hotline, network of mobile clinics and art and leisure activities for psychosocial support, as well as cooperation with the initiative of the First Lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska.

“IOM also provides psychosocial support to Ukrainian nationals fleeing from the war to Lithuania and plans to launch a toll-free Emotional Support Hotline here in cooperation with IOM Ukraine. Understanding that support is available and easily accessible enhances resilience,” said Mantas Jeršovas, psychologist at IOM Lithuania

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, IOM Vilnius Office provides support to Ukrainian nationals. On 8 September, experts from the IOM Vilnius Office and the representatives of the National Health Insurance Fund and Antakalnis Outpatient Clinic organized a webinar about the healthcare system in Lithuania. Recently, IOM Vilnius Office initiated a Displacement Tracking Matrix survey to collect information about Ukrainian refugees' journey, intended destination, profiles, and basic needs. Survey results will be presented in October 2022.