Russia, Ukraine & Mental Health

Russia Ukraine War and Its Effect on Mental Health

The war between Russia and Ukraine is ongoing and the effects of their conflict impact the world.

Effects of War on Mental Health of General Public

War affects both combatants and non-combatants emotionally and physically. The terror spread by the violence of the war can be emotionally devastating to those who both experience or bear witness to war. Injury, death, disease, malnutrition, disability, and sexual assault are unfortunately common occurrences when physical combat and violence are used to solve problems, while anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder are some of the lasting emotional effects of war. Human rights violations lead to humanitarian crises and problems of power, oppression, and opportunity give rise to generations of mental health issues. Human rights violations such as violence, lack of access to adequate resources, and displacement take away citizens’ rights to healthy and happy lives.

Wars, as traumatic events, lead to specific combinations of symptoms with severe, prolonged, physical, and emotional repercussions. The potential for war-related post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression is high. Psychological damage occurs when an individual is confronted with a traumatic event that results in unbearable anxiety and helplessness combined with the belief that they will die. Although stress affects everyone and there are multiple types of trauma, traumatic events like war are particularly overwhelming. They may leave a person emotionally shattered and feeling helpless. Coping mechanisms often fail in the midst of life-threatening events, injuries, and threats to body integrity and safety. Difficulty coping with traumatic symptoms is more common in respondents who have witnessed war atrocities. Specific PTSD symptoms have been directly linked to the death of a child or spouse in war times and chronic medical conditions such as arthritis and immune issues are associated with the aftereffects of war.

In today's combat, civilians suffer the most. There are multiple types of trauma that can be experienced during war. You don’t even have to be the direct victim of war to experience the negative effects. It is possible to be traumatized if you are only a witness to someone else’s trauma. It is also possible to be traumatized by simply hearing about the violent or disturbing death or harm that happened to another person. So imagine the effects that watching too much news about war can have on your mental health.

How do you stay positive during a tough time?

Tough times can have a profound effect on mood. Whether you are worried about global events or may have suffered an automobile injury that left you permanently disabled, maintaining a positive attitude can be difficult. It is essential to find meaning in negative circumstances in order to stay positive and deal with difficult emotions. There are helpful ways to stay positive and deal with difficult times:

  • Minimize social media and news Although you want to stay informed, endlessly “doom scrolling” is not good for your mental health. Limit yourself to 15 minutes of negative news per day and be sure that you are not reading or watching it right before bedtime. Do not view images that are gruesome or read content that highlights the “gory details” of war. You are not doing anyone any good, especially yourself, by doing so.

  • Treat yourself

Prioritize self-care during these challenging times. Talk to yourself gently and start a new hobby to make you feel better. Read a self-help book to take care of your mental and physical health. Exercise regularly and get plenty of sleep. Do what you enjoy.

  • Spend time in nature

Stop chasing people online or doing other activities on smartphones and go for a walk. Spending time in nature improves your mental health and mood and provides an opportunity to practice mindfulness, which can have many positive effects on your life. Get some sunshine if you are fortunate enough to live in a place that has it!

  • Gratitude journal

Practicing gratitude for what you have can significantly change your perspective for the better. It can be an antidote to negativity and sadness. Practicing gratitude can rewire your brain to improve your level of happiness in the long run. You may be surprised at how many things you can be thankful for. Whatever you do, don’t let yourself feel guilty though. You don’t have to feel guilty to appreciate what you have.

  • Say "for" instead of "to."

At some point, we all question why this is happening to me. So instead, create your own (positive) story as to why this is happening for me. Life happens FOR us. This one word can change your perspective on the challenges you face, as the difficult moments teach you more and make you the better version.

  • Allow yourself have bad days

Don’t force yourself to be positive all the time; it can backfire and increase negative emotions over time. Instead, allow yourself to feel your emotions and make room for them. Crying works as a great emotional release, so let the tears flow if it is needed.

  • Surround yourself with loved ones

Your friends and family can help bring light to your life. Get some time to laugh together and reach out to them for support. It can give you the courage you need to help you move forward.

  • Address the things you can control

If you find your thoughts often focused on things you don’t have control over, stop and breathe. Make a list of what you can do and work to gradually accept what you can't control. Even if you can only control your efforts and attitude, it is necessary to know what you can manage.

Prolonged Exposure Therapy

Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE) is very effective in treating symptoms of trauma and PTSD. PE involves retelling your traumatic story repeatedly to a therapist while feeling the difficult emotions. Although it is tempting to avoid talking or thinking about a traumatic situation, this is not helpful in the long term. Eventually, it will not hurt so badly to tell your story. Prolonged exposure therapy also involves approaching situations that you previously avoided because of the traumatic event. For example, a sexual assault survivor might avoid going places alone or talking with anyone who reminds them of the traumatic event. Treatment would involve setting up gradual exposures to these avoided scenarios and doing so at a pace that they can tolerate.


Although war and other traumatic events are inevitable, focusing on resilience, healing, and processing avoided memories and emotions can heal the damage that is done. While it is difficult, finding meaning in even the most terrible of circumstances can be the key to living a happy and productive life after trauma.