A man carries an Ukrainian flag at March 1 rally to protest the Russian invasion. (Black Press file photo)

A man carries an Ukrainian flag at March 1 rally to protest the Russian invasion. (Black Press file photo)

The weight of the world: Central Albertans’ mental health impacted by Ukraine invasion

‘It’s challenging.’ People hoped to regain equilibrium after pandemic: AHS health expert

Harrowing images of ruined streets and shattered lives in Ukraine are being compounded by fears that Russia’s invasion could ignite a nuclear war.

Many central Albertans, like people around the globe, are deeply troubled by this state of affairs.

Even before the Feb. 24 attack, 200 to 300 Albertans a day were calling the provincial Mental Health Crisis Line with COVID-19-related concerns.

This compares to 30 calls a day before the start of the pandemic, said Dr. Nicholas Mitchell, AHS provincial medical director for addiction and mental health.

Whether crisis calls have spiked even higher since the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine by Russia has not yet been determined by AHS experts — but Mitchell would not be surprised if they have.

“Having this new global crisis come on the heels of the pandemic is very challenging,” he said on Thursday.

“I think a lot of people were hoping to be able to recover their sense of equilibrium” as the pandemic appeared to wane, he explained. But just as restrictions were being lifted, the public was being exposed to horrifying images of attacks pn Ukraine citizens and cities in the news and social media.

“A lot of folks here have Ukrainian roots, so what they are hearing from family members is quite tragic,” added Mitchell. “It’s definitely impacting people…”

This was exemplified at a collection drive in Red Deer to send medicine and military supplies to the beleaguered country. Organizer Alex Ivanenko reported last weekend that some donors were arriving in tears to St. Nicholas Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Ivanenko was happy to listen to their concerns, or to refer these people to local organizations with counselling services.

Mitchell believes donors and volunteers are taking a good first step to improving their mental health by simply contributing to charity. In gathering supplies for Ukrainians, local residents are regaining their sense of control with the knowledge they are assisting in an individual way.

“A small gesture takes something that seems out of your control and reduces your feelings of anxiety and helplessness,” said Mitchell.

He also advises anyone who’s unhealthily preoccupied with the invasion to reduce time spent on news sites and social media. “Not that you want to ignore what’s happening,” he said, but rather to balance the upsetting news with more positive aspects of everyday existence.

“Getting caught up in it tends to drive up anxiety.”

However, Mitchell knows some people may have trouble rebalancing their lives and could be losing sleep over the situation. If the weight of the world feels heavy enough to impact personal relationships, or your ability to concentrate at work, he believes it could be time to call the crisis line and possibly get a referral for counselling or professional help.

The AHS Mental Health Crisis Line is 1-877-303-8642. It’s staffed 24/7. Albertans can also call 811 to get health care information, or visit 211.ca for a listing of local social service agencies.

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