Researchers implement innovative digital mental health solutions for Ukraine

July 2, 2024

The ongoing two-year war in Ukraine has created an immense need for psychological support, while the capacity of mental health care systems in the region remains insufficient. The U-RISE project, developed at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam with support from the EU, aims to provide a science-based, adequate mental health and psychosocial support to address the pressing mental health needs of Ukrainians displaced in Europe.

Barriers to mental health support

U-RISE, an initiative led by the VU research team of Els van der Ven, Marit Sijbrandij and Iryna Frankova, addresses the needs of Ukrainian displaced persons regarding mental health and psychosocial support. Barriers to mental health interventions include the lack of trust, requisite language skills, financial and stigma-related barriers. Specifically for face to-face interventions, local service providers reported mental health illiteracy, and the lack of available support professionals as obstacles.

The helpfulness of digital tools

Digital mental health interventions provide opportunities to scale up mental health and psychosocial support to reach communities with a high unmet need for psychological support. The interventions implemented by U-RISE, are evidence-based and have a large reach due to peer refugee helpers’ involvement.

Implementing digital aids

U-RISE has mobilized and strengthened a European network of Ukrainian and Russian-speaking mental health professionals to exchange guidelines, experiences and knowledge and to promote collaboration with international organizations, NGOs and other stakeholders. U-RISE uses various face-to-face and digital psychological interventions to support forcibly displaced people from Ukraine.

Digital interventions include a self-help stress management guide

The Doing What Matters in Times of Stress (DWM) digital tool’s content was developed by the World Health Organization. Accessible via smartphone, tablet, or computer, DWM offers five modules focusing on mindfulness-based strategies.

DWM is available in Ukrainian, Russian and also English; anyone interested in learning these stress management techniques is free to try. Link to the app:

A chatbot that has been in use by more than 100,000 Ukrainians

In the chatbot, people receive supportive messages and recommendations on how to deal with stress. The nature of the messages is based on Psychological First Aid, an evidence-based intervention often used in crisis situations.

Support by VU IXA-GO

Over a few years now, VU IXA-GO has been gladly supporting the team of Marit Sijbrandij, professor of Clinical Psychology at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in acquiring funding, advice on organizational and legal matters, and impact and/or business development strategies. Read more

About U-RISE

U-RISE is coordinated by the VU and includes collaborations with various partners such as ARQ (national psychotrauma center) and three NGOs in Romania, Poland and Slovakia, that lead the psychosocial support locally.

To improve the uptake of digital interventions, it is important to support the use of digital tools and foster trust among potential users regarding digital data protection. U-RISE will continue to increase awareness about the benefits of digital interventions, for these tools to supply maximal aid that is needed during difficult times. Read more