Majority of Ukrainian refugee mothers in Poland experiencing high or severe levels of distress - UNICEF study

On Mental Health Action Day, UNICEF calls for more psychosocial support for refugees and launches online campaign targeted at Ukrainian mothers

18 May 2023
A mother holding her child at a train station in Poland after crossing the Ukraine-Poland border.
UNICEF/UN0766206/Reklajtis

Warsaw, 18 May, 2023 – More than 60 per cent of Ukrainian refugee mothers in Poland are experiencing high or severe levels of distress according to the results of a survey by the UNICEF Refugee Response Office in Poland. The survey also found that 53 per cent had considered getting, or had already accessed, mental health support since arriving in Poland.

“The psychosocial toll of the war in Ukraine is immense so the results of this survey are not a surprise,” said Dr Rashed Mustafa Sarwar, Country Coordinator, UNICEF Refugee Response Office in Poland. “Mental health and psychological support is vital to help families and children heal from the invisible wounds of war and that’s why it’s a huge part of our response and cuts across all of the work we do here in Poland.”

“Mental health and psychological support is vital to help families and children heal from the invisible wounds of war and that’s why it’s a huge part of our response and cuts across all of the work we do here in Poland.”

The survey of Ukrainian refugee mothers used the World Health Organization Well-Being Index (WHO-5), a questionnaire consisting of five simple, non-invasive questions, to assess their psychological well-being subjectively. The results of the survey indicated that over 30% were exhibiting high levels of distress and over 30% were experiencing severe levels of distress.

Most surveyed women said they felt helpless and had considered seeking help from a psychologist. The issues contributing to stress included uncertainty about the future, worries about family or friends in Ukraine or elsewhere and sadness because of the war. High levels of distress were also related to practical concerns, including money, housing, jobs, language issues, access to health care and childcare.

The mothers surveyed who demonstrated higher levels of distress also reported having more difficulty accessing mental health services. Overall, respondents were open to different forms of mental health support but there was a preference for it to be in Ukrainian.

UNICEF has used the results of the survey to inform a nationwide Social Behaviour Change campaign ‘The Roof is in Your Hands’ targeting Ukrainian mothers with information on available psychological support as well as coping strategies. The campaign will reach audiences through digital channels as well as offline through the partnerships with municipalities UNICEF is working with.  

The name of the campaign was inspired by the expression ‘your mind = your roof’ in Ukrainian. The campaign aims to motivate refugees to seek professional help before their mental health worsens. It also suggests coping strategies based on mental health expert recommendations to help refugees deal with stress and ‘take the roof back to their hands’.

“We want to ensure that no one slips through the gaps and is left to deal with psychological distress alone. I hope that thanks to this campaign across Poland, we will reach the most vulnerable and ensure every person who has fled war in Ukraine has access to the help they need,” said Rashed Mustafa.

“I hope that thanks to this campaign across Poland, we will reach the most vulnerable and ensure every person who has fled war in Ukraine has access to the help they need.”

The UNICEF Refugee Response Office in Poland’s programmes on mental health include psychological first aid at Blue Dot Support Hubs at busy border crossings and transit points, supporting psychological interventions and services in the community as well as mental health support for children, adolescents and parents in day cares, schools and Spilno Hubs. Almost 700,000 children and caregivers have received mental health and psychosocial support through interventions across UNICEF’s programmes in Poland since the UNICEF Refugee Response Office was set up in March 2022.

Media contacts

Monika Kacprzak
Communication Specialist (Media)
UNICEF Refugee Response Office Poland
Tel: (+48) 604 226 866

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