Psychologist offers mental health advice for kids, adults amid Ukraine-Russia war

A UW-Health psychologist offers advice for children, adults going through "vicarious trauma".
A UW-Health psychologist offers advice for children, adults going through "vicarious trauma".(WBAY)
Published: Mar. 21, 2022 at 6:24 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Even though the war is across the world, it can take a toll on our mental health.

The Ukraine-Russia war is easily witnessed via social media and news outlets. Its impact on our mental health is very real. Shanda Wells, a psychologist with UW Health, said there’s a term called “vicarious trauma”.

“Meaning, that if you didn’t experience a traumatic event yourself, you can have the traumatic effects of that through hearing about it or seeing images or being exposed to it in different ways,” said Wells.

She said limiting war updates from the news or social media can help, but it’s not a solution. And the issue could be affecting children. The traumatic stress from the war can affect kids differently, but certain age groups generally have similar symptoms.

Ages 1 to 4 signs of trauma:

-Physical symptoms of possible trauma can be stomach pains, headaches, inconsistent sleeping patterns or changes in appetite.

-Since children can’t all vocally express themselves, those are important signs to look for.

Ages 5 to 11 signs of trauma:

-Physical symptoms like ages 1 to 4.

-More likely to show emotional reactions such as being bad tempered, more sad and less cheerful.

-Children could isolate themselves.

Ages 12 to 18 signs of trauma:

-Physical and emotional signs are possible.

-Are more likely to be curious about the war and bring up serious, existential questions.

“In these situations, kids just want to feel safe like all of us. So I really think in all ages it’s good to approach your children with curiosity,” said Wells.

Wells said it’s important to do an internal check on yourself with how you’re sleeping or eating. When it comes to your feelings, don’t dismiss them.

“Normalizing the feelings is really important, right? That it’s okay to feel scare, worried or curious. We’re all feeling that way right now. And how you feel, is fine,” said Wells.

Psychologists say doing research and having honest conversations can help.

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