Most international research on refugees has focused on the impact of migration as a critical factor that impacts mental health. Still, there is a very complex and detailed relationship between the trauma level experienced and the subsequent distress. The clinical perspective is prevalent and tends to underemphasize the role of settlement barriers and socio-cultural aspects. These barriers can be just as stressful as the event preceding the refugees’ flight, in this case, the war in Ukraine.
Refugees’ ability to overcome traumatic events during their flight and in their new countries is well-known.
The biggest problems in a foreign country
Refugees’ main problems they experience in foreign countries are practical, socio-cultural, and emotional. The language barrier is a huge issue. Refugees should take advantage of the host country’s free language courses. They can take free language courses in the UK and Austria, and low-cost ones in Germany.
Issues of socio-cultural nature include discrimination, combating negative refugee stereotypes, and culture shock.
Finally, emotional problems include feelings of depression, fear of uncertainty, and anger at being displaced.
How to cope
Four factors determine how you can cope with issues you might experience in a foreign country: personal resources, personal achievements in the past, and support from others. The word “others”, means services providing resettlement support for other Ukrainians and refugees.
The role of religion and spirituality
Clinicians working with victims of war shared that recovery revolves around integrating the trauma into the person’s life story in a meaningful way. Spirituality, religion, and related practices can complete this role as they are crucial coping mechanisms in dealing with severe trauma and daily challenges. According to a study by Brune (2002) on war victims resettling in Switzerland and Germany, refugees with strong political or religious convictions adapted quicker to their new life in another country.
Generally, resilience is perceived as someone’s ability to adapt or “bounce back” after an adverse life experience. Schools and other public institutions can promote positive adjustment outcomes for young refugees by promoting self-esteem, making a mentor or care provider available, and providing therapy. An understanding of the language is essential here. Resilience will be cultivated by acts of risk-taking, flexibility, fulfilling resettlement requirements, and finding contact with a diaspora in the foreign country, in this case, the Ukrainian diaspora.
How to be more resilient
Helping others succeed is the quickest path to achieving your own success. Share your knowledge and support with other refugees. The reward is helping other Ukrainians, so you should not expect anything substantial in return. Help each other any way you can in these difficult times.
Maintain a strong social network
Supportive and caring people around you are a strong defense. These people will listen to you and help you devise possible solutions. Social support promotes self-esteem, a sense of control, and confidence, potentially bringing about adaptive coping responses. Your network also provides guidance and information.
Social and resettlement services are tasked with increasing refugees’ adaption capacities if powered by good policy. On the other hand, social support reduces stress, which is crucial when facing uncertainty in a foreign country.
Refugees who don’t speak the local language and have no access to the internet have no way of finding information. Instead, they turn to friends, a church, relatives, or established refugees, seeing them as a more reliable source of information than the local authorities and government services.
How to be more self-efficient in a foreign country
Being unemployed in a foreign country is a huge source of stress. Those who are more self-efficient find this easier to cope with. They apply a problem-focused strategy. In contrast, less self-efficient people tend to focus on their emotions.
Studies have found that victims of military combat, assault, or terrorist attacks who believe they have defeated this trauma are proactive in adapting to a new environment. This is a universal rather than a culturally-specific phenomenon.
How to cope with depression
It’s only natural to experience sadness as a refugee, especially if you’ve left behind your home, family, friends, and job. This can become overwhelming and transform into depression, which is an illness.
Thankfully, there are things you can do to stimulate the brain to “rewire” itself. Moderate exercise is one of these things. It has several benefits for depression, such as boosting self-esteem and lowering blood pressure.
However, excessive exercise will not be helpful, especially if you have other health problems.
When a person is depressed, they will focus on everything that has gone wrong. When you’re running from war, that thought process occurs a lot. Engage your senses to make focusing on the present easier. It might help to adopt a mantra; a logical or positive phrase that you keep repeating to yourself, like:
- There’s no point in / no time to worry
- I can’t change anything by worrying
- I can only move on
- The future will never be worse than the past
- The worst is over
- We will rebuild our lives
Importantly, if your depression has become severe, you might need professional help.
While coping mechanisms are universal, Ukrainians are uniquely positioned to adjust better than many other populations. They are educated, tough, smart, and weather-resistant. They find solace in art and music and are kind and hospitable. They also work very hard, being among the best-represented nations on freelancer platforms such as Upwork and Fiverr. All of these factors suggest they will ultimately cope well with the uncertainty in their new homelands.
World Health Organization (2009). New issues in refugee research. Retrieved 31.05.2022, from https://www.unhcr.org/4b167d769.pdf
UNHCR (2002). Refugee resettlement: an international handbook to guide reception and integration: Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture (VFST) & UNHCR
Colic-Peisker, V., & Tilbury, F. (2003). “Active” and “Passive” Resettlement: The influence of support services and refugees’ own resources on resettlement style. International Migration, 41(5), 61-91.
Vanista-Kosuta, A., & Kosuta, M. (1998). Trauma and Meaning. Thesis. http://www.cmj.hr/1998/39/1/9475809.htm.
Pargament, K., Koenig, H., & Perez, L. (2000). The many methods of religious coping: development and initial validation of RCOPE. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 56(4), 519-543.
Brune, M., Haasen, C., Krausz, M., Yagdiran, O., Busots, E., & Eisenman, D. (2002). Belief systems as coping factors for traumatized refugees: a pilot study. European Psychiatry, 17, 451-458.
Benight, C., & Bandura, A. (2003). Social cognitive theory and posttraumatic recovery: the role of perceived efficacy. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 42, 1129-1148.