Removing the Stigma: Ukraine Launches Suicide Prevention Hotline for Veterans
BY PETER DICKINSON
SEPTEMBER 9, 2019
According to the World Health Organization, Ukraine currently ranks eighth internationally in terms of suicide rates among the population. It is one of a staggering six post-Soviet countries to feature in the global top ten (Lithuania is in first position followed by Russia in second place, Belarus in fifth, Kazakhstan in seventh, and Latvia in ninth). This hints at a vast mental health crisis across the whole of the former USSR, making initiatives like Lifeline Ukraine even more urgent.
Ukrainian veterans take part in the March of Defenders of Ukraine as part of Ukraine's Independence Day celebrations, in Kyiv, Ukraine August 24, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn OgirenkAutumn 2019 will see the official launch of Lifeline Ukraine, the country’s first professional suicide prevention and mental health support hotline. Recruitment of counselors has focused on Ukraine’s pool of approximately 400,000 combat veterans from the country’s undeclared but ongoing war with Russia. After completing training with international specialists in veteran mental health issues, they will begin working around the clock at the Lifeline Ukraine offices in Kyiv’s Podil district.
The launch of Lifeline Ukraine cannot come too soon. Mental health problems among former military personnel are a major social issue, and one that the country remains ill equipped to address. Prior to the Russian invasion of 2014, post-Soviet Ukraine had no experience of dealing with the trauma of military conflict, or of providing support for those left damaged by war. This was just one of the many ways in which Ukraine was completely unprepared for the onset of Russian aggression. Understandably, the country initially focused attention on defending itself against the immediate military threat, but the accompanying mental health challenges created by the conflict have since made themselves abundantly apparent.
There are no exact figures available for the number of suicides among Ukrainian military personnel and veterans, but experts believe at least 900 have taken their own lives since the start of hostilities five-and-a-half years ago.
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