Even though survival, food and clothes are essential for survival, our neighbors from the east also need irreplaceable psychological support. Sometimes it is enough to talk and listen honestly, and sometimes the only option will be therapy with an appropriate specialist. Rebuilding the sense of security is a process that can take months or even years. Where to look for support and how to support in everyday life so as not to harm? Julia Buraczyńska - a psychology graduate - answers the questions.
Joanna Karp: Each of us, at the moment we are, has or will have contact with people from Ukraine, so maybe at the beginning let's talk about how we can support being next to us.
Julia Buraczyńska: The situation in which people find themselves, forced to leave their home in fear of war, is undoubtedly a crisis. When providing help, it is worth taking an interdisciplinary approach. The point is that the help should be multidimensional. We feel it subconsciously. Poles are wondering: "What could my family and I need in such a situation?" Each answer breeds a reaction. We provide shelter, organize collections, provide medical and legal assistance, organize free language courses, organize assistance in transporting animals, etc.
It is way too much for one person. How to help the psyche then?
In the context of psychological assistance, it is precisely ensuring a sense of security, providing support and meeting basic needs that is the first step to rebalancing - it is already happening.
The question is, what's next? And here there is no easy answer, because how many people, so many situations and possible solutions. It is important to adapt to a specific person. Let's not be afraid to start a conversation, ask how the person is feeling, if there is anything they need.
What if the person is closed to support and conversation?
Let's prepare for a variety of possible reactions. People who have experienced traumatic experiences may exhibit behaviors that we do not encounter on a daily basis, such as bursting into tears, leaving the room during a conversation, becoming completely silent or even reacting aggressively. It is also possible that initially such a person will not be ready to share their experiences at all and will not want to talk to us. It is certainly not an easy situation, but if we can, it is worth giving such people space. Allow emotions to be experienced in their own way. We should not get discouraged. We can make us feel that we are and wait patiently for a willingness to talk.
So, to sum up, at the beginning we have to help them survive everyday life?
It is important to show our guests that they have an influence on something. Let's focus on the here and now. Consider what they can realistically do, e.g. get a PESEL number or look for employment. Even the smallest steps will be crucial. Let us not be afraid to invite them to jointly engage in everyday activities. The amount of selfless help they receive can also be overwhelming, so while no one expects it, creating an opportunity to "pay back" can have a positive effect on psychological well-being.
Let's also not forget about the power of small gestures that can give a substitute for normality and improve well-being, e.g. buy fresh flowers or a chocolate for a child for home, or suggest spending time together, e.g. for a walk in the park.
Since we already know how to support, please tell me how to talk to people affected by war experiences, so as not to harm? What to pay special attention to? What to avoid
Here it is worth paying attention to two aspects. How not to harm the other person, but also how not to harm yourself. It may turn out that our interlocutor is ready to share his experiences, stories, relives the traumatic situation and shares it with us. Although we want to help, listen and support, let's be careful not to take too much on our shoulders. These are often very difficult stories that we may not be ready for, especially if we take refuge in our own home and are put to the test every day.
What if we want to take up the challenge?
However, if we feel strong enough to "lift" such a conversation, let us ask about how we feel. Let us not forcefully ask, but let us show interest. When we want to help someone, we often try to cheer them up, use phrases like "I understand how you must feel now", "etc., but such words usually do not bring relief. If someone confides in us and we don't know what to answer, it's better to talk less and focus on listening. And even if there is a language barrier, the other person will read our non-verbal communication, our interest will be felt through gestures, tone of voice or facial expressions. Let us not interrupt the interlocutor.
We also help by listening. Can we tell when therapy or specialist intervention is indicated?
First of all, it is worth emphasizing that the decision to start treatment must be the decision of the person concerned in 100%. Asking for help is the first, huge step in the fight for your mental well-being. A sign that therapy may be indicated is long-term discomfort, which negatively affects our functioning and quality of life.
Additionally, people who have experienced trauma may be at risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It manifests itself, among other things, with recurring images of a traumatic situation, which may cause sleep problems. Thoughts still revolve around a difficult situation, there may be difficulty concentrating. Other symptoms can also be increased alertness or fear. A person can react sharply to unexpected loud sounds or sudden movements.
And then it is worth asking for specialist help?
It is worth knowing that a psychologist can help in such a situation.
In extreme situations, if we believe that there is a real threat to the health or life of another person, then we should call an ambulance.
What if our guest is blocked from talking to a psychologist?
We can't do much. As I mentioned earlier, a conversation with a psychologist will only make sense if we undertake it on our own initiative. What we can do, not only towards our guests from abroad, is to normalize the use of psychological help. If our leg or stomach hurts, we go to a specialist. So why are we reluctant to go to a psychologist when we have anxiety attacks or are overwhelmed by emotions?
So we must understand that a psychologist is a doctor like anyone else.
Breaking the taboo is slowly happening. People choose to tell their stories and experiences. They say aloud that they are using help, or have used it in the past, and this is no reason to be ashamed.
If someone has never had contact with a psychologist, you can also simply tell what the psychologist does, and that although it seems impossible, it can help, for example, to sleep through the night and feel better. Provide a safe space for experiencing emotions and equip us with tools for coping with stress. It is worth taking the first step and making an appointment to check for yourself what it looks like.
Where then to seek help?
In the context of refugees from Ukraine, it is worth making sure that there is no language barrier. There are many points where you can get help, so it is worth looking for the form of support that will be best suited to us. Remember that a psychologist does not have the authority to prescribe medications, so if our condition requires pharmacological treatment, we should seek the help of a psychiatrist.
In addition, it is worth answering the question of whether we prefer to meet someone in person or do we prefer a phone call? In the case of personal visits, let's also consider the location. The trend in which a given specialist works is also important.
In emergencies, consider telephone support that is more easily available.
The city of Łódź has launched telephone psychological assistance for refugees from Ukraine under the telephone number: 795-540-285. The phone is open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and most importantly, it is operated by people who speak Ukrainian.
On specialized websites, among others twojpsycholog.pl, you can find free psychological consultations offered by dozens of Ukrainian-speaking psychologists.
These are just a few examples of the help that is offered free of charge.
What about us? How are we going to deal with this emotional excess baggage?
To talk. It is important not to suppress your emotions. I think the last time has been very difficult for all of us. Fear and anxiety have been with us since the beginning of the pandemic and have now been made worse by the war.
The more we are involved in helping others, the easier it is to forget about ourselves, and yet, in order to provide help and support, we must take care of our own well-being to be a strong pillar for others. That is why it is worth saying stop, looking in the mirror and asking: how do I feel now? Don't I need a rest.
This may be more difficult than it sounds. Let's do something nice for ourselves. Let's go to the cinema, go for a walk, meet for coffee with friends, or read a chapter of the book in peace. Let's take care of ourselves.
You confirm what I heard once. To ignite others, you have to burn yourself. Finally, what advice will you give all of us?
I would also like to emphasize once again that it is worth talking. For example, if we have taken a family from Ukraine under our roof, let's talk to someone who has also given someone refuge. There is a good chance that someone will experience emotions similar to us and show us understanding. For while on the one hand we can be proud of ourselves, we also have the right to feel overwhelmed and full of fear. Feel responsible. All these emotions are OK, but when they start to make us feel bad and this malaise persists, it is worth seeking help. Depending on the scale of the problem and readiness, among friends, in a support group or at a specialist.