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Social capital-based mental health interventions for refugees: Ukraine and beyond
  1. Ester Villalonga-Olives1,
  2. Tim Wind2,
  3. Robert Smith3,
  4. Daniel P Aldrich4
  1. 1 Department of Practice, Sciences, and Health Outcomes Research, University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
  2. 2 Arq Psychotrauma Expert Group, Foundation Centrum ’45, Amsterdam, Noord-Holland, The Netherlands
  3. 3 Independent researcher, Geneva, Switzerland
  4. 4 Department of Political Science and School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs, Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Ester Villalonga-Olives, University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, Baltimore, MD 21042, USA; ester.villalonga{at}

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New knowledge about social capital and mental health for refugees is particularly timely in light of the current Ukrainian refugee situation. Several European countries, typically more accustomed to funding large-scale refugee aid operations on other continents, find themselves receiving and providing primary aid to waves of Ukrainian refugees. The United Nations estimates that more than 6.8 million people have left Ukraine (as of 29 May 20221), and 7.1 million have been internally displaced (as of 23 May 20222); the actual totals have likely increased in subsequent months. Governments, aid organisations and host communities are charged with ensuring that refugees are safe and receive all necessary support, and must plan for a potentially long period of hosting them in large numbers. However, European governments are better resourced than those of most refugee-hosting countries, and can provide for Ukrainian refugees’ material needs with relative ease. This provides an opportunity for extra attention to less tangible but equally important needs—notably, mental health.

Aid organisations and practitioners typically focus on providing materials and tangible services to refugees, among them medical care, food, water and shelter. Nonetheless, special attention needs to be given to mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety, which are dramatically higher in refugees than in the general population.3 Children remain a disproportionately affected group: experiences such as attacks, recruitment of parents or family members into the army, forced migration, poverty, disruption of education, lack of protection and security, and loss of healthcare are among the stressful life events that, lived during childhood, have devastating consequences.4

A multilevel explanation of refugee mental health

Naturally, refugee mental ill health does not manifest in a vacuum, but connects with factors at the community and the individual levels. At the community level, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine has separated families and dispersed communities. This displacement …

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  • Twitter @robsmit72298247, @DanielPAldrich

  • Contributors EV-O and DPA had the initial idea. EV-O drafted the first version of the manuscript. EVO, TW, RS and DPA edited the manuscript and made critical contributions to it. All authors approved the final version of the manuscript.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.