Psychology students offer mental health support to Ukrainians
The UPSHIFT programme is helping to support young people’s mental health by providing counselling and educational activities
The war in Ukraine has impacted the lives of millions, forcing families to leave their homes and part with loved ones. Its scars are not only physical – they are mental, too.
According to a recent survey by U-Report, around 70 per cent of young people say that their emotional condition deteriorated after 24 February 2022, with over 70 per cent in need of more emotional or psychological support.
“Not everyone can afford paying a specialist for a session, and not everyone will open up to an outsider,” says 18-year-old Sofia Tkachenko.
Sofia, who is training to be a psychologist, is currently in her second year of the university in Kropyvnytskyi. Together with other students, she has found a way to help – by taking part in the UPSHIFT programme supported by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Spanish Agency of Cooperation for Development.
“We provide free psychological assistance under the supervision of teachers,” explains Sofia. “We also organise various educational and preventive activities. We talk about how important it is to protect and promote one’s mental health. Given the country context, we understand that there are a lot of people who need this support now.”
Sofia and her team have developed a chatbot which enables people to leave request for consultation. Sessions are possible both online and offline, and the team even provide help via text message. Experienced psychologists help to plan each consultation.
“We come to the teachers with requests of the ‘clients’,” explains Sofia. “They advise us on the methods, preferred ways to communicate with the ‘clients’ and what questions to ask. Our team of psychology students then look for additional information. We draw up a consultation plan and share it with the teachers. They check whether the questions are correctly formulated and whether everything is well constructed. As soon as the plan of the session is agreed upon, our manager arranges the date of the consultation.”
Currently, their ‘clients’ are mostly young people.
“It’s easier to trust peers,” says Sofia.
The team also organises awareness-raising events and around 300 people have already attended. Most recently, a Communication Play Therapy session helped participants to develop their communication skills while playing games and learning to work together. In spring, the team plans to hold career guidance classes with high school students.
As well as helping youngsters, the project also offers students the chance to obtain crucial practical experience. The students will share their experiences with other educational institutions and encourage them to take on similar projects.
“We probably chose the right profession for us, because we understand that during the war, the cases can be really challenging,” says Sofia. “But, despite everything, we want to work and help. Our system will be useful for future psychologists because they will be able to gain experience. And when they graduate, they will already know what individual consultations are about.”
Since the beginning of full-scale war in Ukraine, UNICEF’s UPSHIFT programme has enabled more than a hundred teams from all over Ukraine to implement projects aimed at overcoming the consequences of the war. Currently, more than 200 young people are working on their initiatives, united and supported by the UPSHIFT programme. As part of it, teenagers and young people develop media products, conduct educational activities, and support and help internally displaced persons to adapt in a new environment.