Ukrainians in N.S. call for mental health hotline
Until recently, the comforts of home were a luxury for sisters Valeriia and Anna – something they couldn’t enjoy in their war-torn country of Ukraine.
They had to flee only a few hours in advance, packed their things and said goodbye to their family in Odessa indefinitely.
“I just left everything in one day,” said Anna Tereshchenko, who fled with her eight-year-old son. “The hardest thing for me was that I didn’t have time to grieve for a long time because life in Canada is expensive. To live here you need a job and money.”
As they settle into their new reality in Halifax, an uneasiness sets in as they prepare to celebrate their first Christmas in Canada.
“You feel guilty because your friends and family are in Ukraine and still at war,” Valeriia Suslova said. “[However] You also feel safe and even a little bit happy [in Canada.]'”
Trained as a social psychologist in Ukraine, Suslova has a unique understanding of how a refugee situation can pose a variety of barriers to a person’s well-being, particularly their mental health.
“There are many Ukrainians who need psychological support,” Suslova said. “You begin to understand that you have to build your new life here from scratch, including money, family, friends and work. It is very difficult.”
Suslova saw the urgency and came up with the idea of creating a virtual mental health hotline for refugees.
The project, called Here4U, is an idea supported by the Nova Scotia-based charity Strongest Families Institute.
“Being separated from family and uprooting your whole life can lead to symptoms of depression and anxiety,” said Dr. Patricia Lingley-Pottie, President and CEO of the Strongest Families Institute.
dr Pottie says rapid mental health intervention is important for refugees, who face significant challenges as they are driven from their communities and witness the effects of war.
“Having someone like Valeriia available by phone or online to provide support can help newcomers overcome some of these challenges,” said Dr. Pottie.
Those who use the program could access Ukrainian support. Tereshchenko believes the service would benefit both adults and children.
“When we came to Canada, [my son] was afraid to leave our apartment,” said Tereshchenko. “It took a long time – almost three months to show him that everything is safe here.”
They expect to receive grants for the project in the new year, but hope to secure an additional $30,000 in public donations to get the program off the ground.
“It is very important that people understand that they are not alone,” Suslova said. “[Ukranians] are so brave.”
To learn how to donate to the Here4U project, visit their website.