29.05.2023 change 29.05.2023

Scientists study psychological reactions of residents of different countries to the outbreak of war in Ukraine

Rzeszów, 16.03.2022. Refugee service point. PAP/Darek Delmanowicz Rzeszów, 16.03.2022. Refugee service point. PAP/Darek Delmanowicz

After the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, nearly half of Ukrainians, 36 percent Poles and 14 percent of the inhabitants of Taiwan experienced symptoms of war-related anxiety, according to research by psychologists from the SWPS University and their colleagues from abroad.

The subjects experienced symptoms of depression, post-traumatic stress, stress related to scenes of war seen in the media and, for example, lower quality of sleep.

Psychologists from the SWPS University together with researchers from Lviv, Singapore and Toronto conducted a study of the psychological reaction to the outbreak of war in Ukraine of the inhabitants of three countries and regions: Ukraine, which was directly affected by the Russian aggression, Poland, which received two million refugees from Ukraine, and Taiwan, threatened with conflict armed with the People's Republic of China. Between March 8 and April 26, 2022, 1,625 people (385 Ukrainians, 1,053 Poles and 188 Taiwanese) participated in an online survey. The results were published in Scientific Reports and European Journal of Psychotraumatology.

The researchers compared the intensity of symptoms of depression (apathy, low self-esteem, low interests), anxiety (unease, emotional arousal), stress (emotional tension, nervousness) experienced by residents of Ukraine, Poland and Taiwan. They also examined symptoms characteristic of post-traumatic stress disorder (including recurring images, nightmares, trauma-related thoughts), as well as arousal (characterized by, for example, increased vigilance, impatience) and avoidance, i.e. trying to avoid war-related thoughts, emotions or conversations.

As predicted by the researchers, it turned out that significantly more study participants from Ukraine experienced symptoms of depression (46.5%), anxiety (46.3%) and post-traumatic stress (73.2%) than those from Poland, where 29 percent people reported symptoms of depression was, 36.5 percent – anxiety, and 57.2 percent - post-traumatic stress. In Taiwan, the share of people with depression was 11.2 percent, those experiencing anxiety - 14.9 percent, and post-traumatic stress - as much as 56.9 percent.

According to Professor Agata Chudzicka-Czupała, quoted in the SWPS press release, the level of psychological stress, especially the sense of helplessness and lack of hope in Polish respondents, could be increased by factors such as exposure to the terrifying details of the war and close contact with Ukrainian refugees. 'People in Poland were worried that the war was still going on and that Poland could also become a target of aggression', says psychologist Professor Agata Chudzicka-Czupała. In her opinion, the war in the neighbouring country had a direct impact on the standard of living of Poles

Taiwanese respondents, who were far from the war in Ukraine, had the lowest levels of depression and anxiety. ‘Although the knowledge of the war may have made them feel threatened by the possibility of a Chinese invasion, the distance between Taiwan and Ukraine and the low level of impact of the war in Ukraine on their daily lives could have protected Taiwanese respondents from strong psychological stress', says Chudzicka-Czupała.

According to the research results, 54.3% of Taiwanese respondents and 80.3% of Polish respondents declared experiencing stress due to the war scenes they watched in the media. Exposure to media images of war caused stress in 83.4 percent respondents from Ukraine.

A much higher percentage of study participants from Ukraine (36%) than from Poland (13.6%) and Taiwan (4.3%) also complained about poor sleep quality due to the war.

Over 90% of surveyed Ukrainians felt angry about the war. In Poland, 85.8% of respondents admitted to having this feeling, in Taiwan - 56.9%. Similarly, 88.1% of respondents from Ukraine, 74.8% from Poland and 24.1% from Taiwan had a sense of injustice due to the ongoing war.

Interestingly, despite the fact that the Taiwanese were not directly involved in the war, their average PTSD scores were only slightly lower than those of respondents from Ukraine, and almost at the same level as those of Polish residents.

Taiwanese respondents scored significantly higher, especially in terms of the intensity of avoidance, than participants from Poland and Ukraine. 'The people of Taiwan are reluctant to receive information about this war, presumably because of fear that the war in Ukraine may increase the likelihood of a Chinese military invasion', Chudzicka-Czupała says.

The researchers were also interested in the needs of the respondents associated with seeking psychological help.

'Despite the significantly higher intensity of psychological stress, more than half (52.5 percent) of the Ukrainian respondents declared that they would not seek such help. In Poland, 43 percent respondents did not need to seek psychological help, and in Taiwan - 95.7 percent', the SWPS press release says.

All respondents, regardless of nationality, pointed mainly to psychologists as the most competent people to help them in this situation. The second indicated group of specialists were psychiatrists.

'Unwillingness to use the help of a mental health specialist in people of Ukrainian nationality, from a country affected by war, may result, for example, from focusing on basic life needs, on instrumental activities related to saving lives, protecting loved ones and belongings, which to the respondents from Ukraine may have seemed the most important things in this extremely difficult situation', Chudzicka-Czupała says. 

The results show that the Russian-Ukrainian war significantly changed the psychological well-being and everyday life of people in the countries covered by the study.

'Alleviating psychological stress and enhancing active coping strategies seem essential to help people alleviate the effects of war-related stress', Chudzicka-Czupała says. In her opinion, it is worth implementing both online forms of psychological support, which can be accessed via a web browser, and mobile ones, available via applications, which are becoming more and more popular in the conditions of the progressing digitisation of society.

'Providing this kind of assistance to people who have to deal with traumatic situations seems extremely important. Such help is also desirable due to the relatively low cost of its provision and the possibility of reaching people from very distant areas’, says Chudzicka-Czupała.

The study was conducted by psychologists from the SWPS University: Professor Agata Chudzicka-Czupała, Professor Damian Grabowski and psychology students from the branch of the university in Katowice: Marta Żywiołek-Szeja and Bartosz Pudełek, together with researchers from the Ivan Franko National University of Lviv, the National Academy of Educational Sciences of Ukraine, the Taiwanese Asia University, the University of Silesia, the National University of Singapore and the University of Toronto.

The Office of Public Affairs and Communications of the SWPS University reminded that an online scientific conference 'Psychology in the face of the Russian-Ukrainian war', with the participation of Ukrainian and Polish psychologists, including those from SWPS University, took place on May 19 and 20. Participants discussed the results of research conducted in connection with the war and exchanged professional experiences related to helping war participants and victims.

PAP - Science in Poland

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