The Psychological First Aid Kit: How to Take Care of Mental Health as a Refugee

In this article, you will learn about the essential steps towards achieving and maintaining mental stability. At the end of the text, you will find a verified and up-to-date list of places where you can receive free psychological assistance. We also spoke to psychologist Helena Nagirna, a practicing psychologist from Lviv who currently practices in Lublin. She shared her experiences and advice for Ukrainian refugees.

The Mental Health of Ukrainians in Scientific Research

Escaping from war is a traumatic experience for refugees, their loved ones, and witnesses to the events. However, when faced with the sudden need to adapt and organize their family and professional lives in a new reality, taking care of mental health often remains a secondary concern.

At the same time, the scale of the problem is enormous. Psychologists from SWPS University, together with researchers from Lviv, have determined that since the start of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in early 2022, 46.5% of Ukrainians have experienced symptoms of depression, 46.3% have experienced anxiety, and a staggering 73.2% have experienced post-traumatic stress. Exposure to war-related media imagery has caused stress in 83.4% of the Ukrainian participants. Over 90% report feelings of anger related to the war, and 36% have complained of sleep and concentration problems [1; 4].

Similar conclusions are drawn by researchers from the University of Kyiv:

Regardless of proximity to the war and whether the participants directly experienced tragic events, everyone tends to experience acute stress and exhibit certain symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (Anton Kurapov, Assistant Professor at the Institute of Experimental and Applied Psychology, National University of Kyiv [2], transl. by Mapuj Pomoc).

The UNICEF Office for Refugee Response in Poland, on the other hand, reports that over 60% of Ukrainian mothers who fled to Poland to escape the war “experience a high or extremely high level of anxiety” [3]. Therefore, the mental health of Ukrainians, both men and women, is seriously endangered.

However, Ukrainian citizens residing in Poland rarely seek psychological help. This is due to several factors, not only a lack of awareness of how trauma can impact aspects of daily life beyond the psychological realm. Often, the barrier is a lack of time resources, organizational possibilities, or knowledge about free assistance initiatives. As the expert points out, the biggest obstacle to self-help, however, remains emotional closure and reluctance to engage in conversations.

“The most important thing is to start talking”

Uncertainty about navigating the new reality bring many threats to our mental well-being. Helena Nagirna highlights this concern. As a psychologist collaborating with the Stock Foundation, she provides free psychological counseling for Ukrainian refugees in Lublin, among other services. According to Nagirna, individuals who have suffered due to the conflict in Ukraine arrive in Poland with a range of practical daily problems. They lack certainty about which actions are appropriate for them.

The set of these problems changes approximately every three months. During the school year, mothers wonder what to do with their children and where to enroll them in activities. Later, women come with questions about how to start working, what compromises to make, or how to handle children during the summer period, the expert explains. Alcohol, divorce, and difficulties in dealing with teenagers are often prevalent issues.

See also: How to Talk to Children About the War in Ukraine? by the Kosmos dla Dziewczynek [Cosmos for Girls] Foundation (in Polish)

How can a psychologist help solve everyday problems? As Helena Nagirna points out:

It is crucial to be able to talk to someone who is impartial and not invested in the outcome of a particular situation. Often, Ukrainians residing in Poland can only seek advice from their loved ones, each of whom is emotionally and personally involved. For instance, a woman who is contemplating whether to return to Ukraine or stay in Poland may seek the opinions of her husband or friends. Some may advise her to go back, while others may suggest staying, but the decision should ultimately be hers and based on her own reflection. Often, the only impartial person to talk to is a psychologist. Only such unbiased conversation allows for a change in mindset, attitude, and the acquisition of reliable advice. Refugees require psychological support from external sources.

The expert adds that a significant barrier is the mental stigma associated with seeking help. In many regions of Ukraine, especially in the eastern parts, there is no habit of working with psychologists. Despite the drastic change in living conditions and worsening emotional and mental problems, some individuals do not seek help. When they do decide to seek assistance, they often encounter organizational and financial barriers, as well as a lack of knowledge.

When asked for advice for refugees, the psychologist emphasizes, “The most important thing is to start talking. Encourage close ones who are not opening up, not willing to talk, to seek help. This is the first and most crucial step towards psychological self-help.”

It is important to give oneself permission to express emotions such as sadness, fear, or anger. It is valuable to seek safe spaces and trusted individuals with whom one can share experiences. Many organizations provide such spaces. It is worth taking advantage of their help, engaging in conversations with professionals who can help understand and cope with difficulties. Some of these resources can be found in the Mapuj Pomoc database (under the “Psychological Support” tab on the Map).

The second step towards self-help

Seeking stability According to research conducted in 2023 at the University of Kyiv, one of the most significant stress factors in the new reality for Ukrainians is financial issues. War often entails job loss and loss of income. The tension caused by financial factors is strongly linked to mental well-being.

Participants [in the University of Kyiv study] who reported financial problems were unable to meet their basic needs and showed significantly higher levels of anxiety compared to those who were financially stable. The same was true for the unemployed and retirees. In the case of unemployed individuals, depression was also more prevalent (Anton Kurapov [2]).

Fleeing from war often involves losing loved ones, homes, and stability. Individuals affected by such losses require support in the grieving process and adaptation to the new situation. These challenges are addressed by the field of migration psychology. Migration is a process of adjusting to a new country, culture, and language. It involves dealing with issues related to social integration, finding employment, and accessing healthcare and education.

Read about the UNICEF campaign “The Roof is in Your Hands,” aimed at Ukrainian mothers, providing information about available psychological support and strategies for coping with stress.

The first step to improving your mental health is to be open to conversation (photo by Canva).

Psychological support can assist in coping with adaptation and overcoming cultural barriers. Nevertheless, the process of rebuilding stability is challenging, and achieving it requires personal commitment. Its main areas include:

  • Housing stability – it is worthwhile to contact organizations that can help find long-term solutions.
  • Healthcare, education, and employment.
  • Language and communication – language is key to communication and integration into a new society, and it is also a tool that helps individuals navigate the new reality and rebuild a sense of purpose and stability. It is valuable to utilize available resources such as language courses and make an effort to use previously learned phrases.
  • Integration and support – it is beneficial to take advantage of meetings, courses, and support groups. Information about various initiatives is shared daily on the Mapuj Pomoc Instagram page.

See: Information for Ukrainian citizens from June 1, 2023 [in Polish]. It contains essential information regarding residence extensions, education, civil affairs, registration, work, healthcare, integration, and social support.

Important contacts: Nationwide Information for Ukrainian Citizens; Nationwide helpline for legal assistance coordination for Ukrainian citizens, tel. 800 088 544; Helpline of the Ukrainian Support House +48 727 805 764 – you can obtain necessary information about functioning in Polish social reality.

Working with a psychologist can provide support in dealing with the stress that accompanies these actions. The specialist will assess whether short-term assistance and conversation are sufficient or if longer-term trauma therapy, treatment for depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, intercultural or family therapy are needed.

Where to seek free help

However, a significant challenge often lies in accessing free psychological or psychiatric services. As Helena Nagirna points out, she receives many requests from individuals outside of Lublin whom she cannot assist through free consultations. The lack of fees often becomes a decisive factor in initiating therapy. The UNICEF Office for Refugee Response in Poland report [3] also highlights this issue.

Some projects that aimed to provide free support have already concluded their activities, although information about them can still be found online. Others do not widely publicize their actions or no longer have available resources to help further individuals in need. This creates an informational chaos that refugees encounter in the midst of their struggles.

However, this does not mean that there are no support points available. It is impossible to list them all, but below we highlight several ongoing projects where free psychological assistance can be obtained.

In the Mapuj Pomoc database, there are nearly 1600 support points cataloged, including over 500 points providing assistance in psychological crises. Access the Psychological Support catalog on the help map and search for a point in your area.

  • Self-Help Line of the Polish Migration Forum Foundation – a free, confidential, and anonymous support line for migrants, available at +48 22 255 22 02 (Ukrainian language – all week; Russian language – Mon-Thu, Sat-Sun; also available in other languages).
  • Psychologist Helena Nagirna collaborates with the Stok Foundation and Children and War, providing free consultations in the Lublin region. Appointments can be made at [email protected].
  • Zustricz Foundation provides free psychological assistance to Ukrainians through the Psychological Aid Helpline at +48786674005. Consultations are available from Monday to Friday, between 9:00 and 18:00. The foundation also offers group and individual therapy for children and adults at Królewska 2 Street in Krakow.
  • Polish Red Cross offers support to anyone experiencing distress due to experiences related to the conflict in Ukraine, from Monday to Friday, between 9:00 and 17:00 for callers from Poland at +48 800 088 136, and from abroad at +48 221 520 620.
  • Nasz Wybór Dom Ukraiński Foundation offers individual psychological advice on Thursdays from 15:00 to 18:00. Registration is required via phone: +48 727 805 764 or email: [email protected].
  • Ocalenie Foundation provides stationary psychological assistance for foreigners at Krucza 6/14a Street in Warsaw, offering support in Polish, English, Ukrainian, and Russian. Appointments can be made via email: [email protected] or by phone. Consultations take place at the foundation’s headquarters in Warsaw (ul. Krucza 6/14a).
  • platform – an anonymous portal for people seeking help and mutual understanding. The platform has several psychologists who respond to individual messages and inquiries.
  • Social and Educational Development Foundation – offers conversations with psychologists in Ukrainian, both in-person and remotely, but exclusively for residents of the Lublin Voivodeship.
  • Cerebris – Center for Neurology and Cognitive Neurotherapy – provides advice exclusively in-person in Gończyce.
  • Children’s Trust Line of the Ombudsman for Children – provides daily consultations in Ukrainian and Russian. Schedule available on their website.
  • Resilience Reconstruction Foundation – offers free consultations with a psychologist at 451 666 100.
  • Psychological and Social Education Assistance Foundation RAZEM organizes a range of free activities and support groups. Information is available at 733-200-501.
  • “Nagle Sami” Foundation – operates an anonymous helpline in Russian (excluding Ukrainian) on Thursdays from 17:00 to 20:00 at 800 108 108.
  • Crisis Intervention Center in Krakow provides free psychological assistance for Ukrainian citizens staying in Krakow at the center located at ul. Radziwiłłowska 8b, between 8:00 and 20:00.
  • Ukraine Development Foundation – available every day from 16:00 to 18:00 Polish time (17:00 to 19:00 Ukrainian time) via WhatsApp.
  • Integration Center for Foreigners in Wrocław offers group and individual psychological consultations for residents of the city.


[1] A. Chudzicka-Czupała et al., Depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress during the 2022 Russo-Ukrainian war, a comparison between populations in Poland, Ukraine, and Taiwan, „Scientific Reports” 13/2023; A. Chudzicka-Czupała et al., Associations between coping strategies and psychological distress among people living in Ukraine, Poland, and Taiwan during the initial stage of the 2022 War in Ukraine, „European Journal of Psychotraumatology” 14/1 (2023). 

[2], Stan psychiczny Ukraińców jest zły, 14 czerwca 2023 [access: 14.06.2023].

[3] Biuro UNICEF ds. Reagowania na Potrzeby Uchodźców w Polsce dla NGO.PL: Większość matek, które uciekły z Ukrainy do Polski doświadcza wysokiego lub ekstremalnie wysokiego poziomu niepokoju – badanie UNICEF, 18 maja 2023 [access: 14.06.2023].

[4] Naukowcy zbadali psychologiczne reakcje mieszkańców różnych krajów na wybuch wojny na Ukrainie, 18 maja 2023 [access: 14.06.2023].