April 15, 2016

UNWLA becomes major donor to UCU’s Mental Health Institute


The 90-year history of the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America is filled with accomplishments and projects that have often been influenced by evolving events in Ukraine. While uniting generations and immigrations of women of Ukrainian descent throughout the decades, the organization has always made it a priority to help average Ukrainian citizens during their time of need. At the very beginning of the developments of the Maidan, the UNWLA offered humanitarian aid to the students standing firmly for a democratic and free homeland; it then offered aid to the wounded when the very concept of a free Ukraine was viciously attacked by the Russian-backed forces and followed this by “adopting” families who had lost their husbands/fathers in defense of Ukraine. Today the UNWLA is focusing on dealing with the agony and pain of those returning from the front.

One of the horrible side effects of this war is that there is very little knowledge about the psycho-trauma that afflicts those suffering because of their exposure to war – whether they be soldiers, families who have lost loved ones, refugees, or families living in the war zone. There is little experience with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a devastating syndrome that can affect a person’s daily functioning and can lead to depression and substance abuse. But PTSD is treatable, and the most current interventions can produce dramatic results. According to Dr. Oleh Romanchuk, director of the Institute of Mental Health at the Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU), “The mental health care system in Ukraine is one of the most neglected areas of the modern health care in our country. The quality of care and medical services for people with mental disorders remains very poor… and is very far away from the current European standards.”

But the PTSD problem in Ukraine is multidimensional and requires a broad spectrum of intervention. One urgent problem reported by UNICEF is that approximately 200,000 children living in Ukraine will need psycho-social support. Another pressing challenge is the need to destroy the stereotypes associated with any form of mental illness.

While in Ukraine in December 2015 on a Shriner’s Outreach medical mission with Boston-based Doctors Collaborating to Help Children and for which the UNWLA provided financial support, this writer, who is president of the UNWLA, and UNWLA Financial Secretary Vera Kushnir met with Dr. Romanchuk and with Natalya Klymovska of UCU, who presented their ideas for a Mental Health Institute and addressed the possibility of the UNWLA’s funding its development.

Upon their return to the United States, Ms. Zajac and Ms. Kushnir presented information about the project to the UNWLA Executive Board, along with the proposal that the UNWLA provide financial assistance for the institute. The project was unanimously approved by the UNWLA executive board, and UNWLA Social Welfare Chairperson Lidia Bilous and her committee expressed their full support for this innovative and necessary project. An official agreement with the Ukrainian Catholic Education Fund in Chicago was signed, and an initial donation of $100,000 was deposited to the account established for this purpose.

The UCU Mental Health Institute’s major goal is to raise awareness about mental health, train professionals in modern treatment approaches, establish a mental health clinic and create specialized programs to provide appropriate treatment. The goal is to have this facility up and running by early fall of this year. Dr. Ulana Suprun, director of the School of Rehabilitation Medicine (SRM) at UCU, is looking forward to working with the Institute of Mental Health. She explains: “The IMH is the leading authority on cognitive behavioral therapy in Ukraine, practicing evidence-based psychology and providing much-needed guidance not only to those requiring psychological consultation, but also providing educational programs and master classes for new and practicing psychologists. The Physical and Occupational Therapy students in the SRM will benefit greatly from the educational and practical experience offered by the Institute. This is one of the many reasons that the Ukrainian Catholic University is slated to be the leading academic institution on rehabilitation medicine in Ukraine.”

UNWLA leaders and members are committed to this endeavor, and we firmly believe that we should not and cannot be timid or ashamed to raise the issue of mental health because full healing should address both the body (physical rehabilitation) and the spirit (mental rehabilitation). Only when this occurs can a person – and by extension a society – be truly healed.