Fleeing – with a mental illness

Anna Monastyrova –

Fleeing your country because of war is a traumatic experience. Imagine doing that with a mental illness – you could assume that’s even harder. That’s the case for Marianna, a young refugee from Ukraine struggling with bipolar disorder.

Image credits: Marianna Nikolaeva

Back in Ukraine, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but her diagnosis is still not final. She needs cognitive-behavioural therapy and help with choosing the correct medicine. Marianna Nikolaeva, a twenty-year-old student from Ukraine, is currently residing in Germany. “This is certainly a bureaucratic country,” – she notes, – “and I still can’t decide whether it’s a good or a bad thing.”

Whilst waiting for her official registration, Marianna has only gone to a general consultation regarding her knee pains. But her psychological disorder can’t wait. In the meantime, although it is very financially straining, Marianna is doing sessions with her Ukrainian therapist. Even with affordable Ukrainian prices, one session costs around 30 euros – and Marianna has neither a stable income nor a legitimate registration. 

“I’ve found some options for therapy in Germany,” – confesses Marianna, – “but there aren’t a lot of open spots, and sometimes I feel like the situation is getting out of control. It was easier in Odessa because I’ve lived there all my life and understood how the system works. Moreover, there I had my citizenship.”

Different institutions of the European Union are currently working alongside several non-government organisations to provide psychological help to all the people in need. However, the demand can be overwhelming. “It is not possible to help everyone in time,” – notes Jurate, a psychologist participating in the initiative of „Pasikalbek,” a mental health service based in Lithuania. “The real challenge is to hear terrible survival stories and remain a professional.” Jurate’s service offers a platform where people can talk to a therapist. Today, over 70 mental health professionals work for the platform and help refugees free of charge. 

“People are afraid of being labelled crazy”

The organisations in Germany volunteering to offer psychological help for the Ukrainians also experience some difficulties. Prof. Dr Eva-Lotta Brakemeier, leader of the University of Greifswald’s initiative ‘Joint Efforts for Psychological Health’, says the biggest challenge in their counselling is the stigmatisation of anything that has to do with psychology. “People are afraid of being labelled crazy. Therefore, it’s very difficult for us to reach out to people.”

“I’m not being helped enough”

Marianna has some serious doubts about therapy options in Germany: “I don’t think I’m being helped enough.” She says she doesn’t want to talk badly about the volunteers, because she knows they’re doing the best they can. But she thinks it isn’t normal to wait one month until you’re allowed to go to the doctor. “I can understand why it happens, though. The flow of refugees is overwhelming, and you can’t just get them all registered in three days. But I think it shouldn’t take months.” 

“No one treats my disorder as a teenage rebel”

But still, Marianna is optimistic: “I hope that after I get a registration, I will be able to satisfy all of my medical needs, and I’m sure the situation with the German psychologists will be much better. For starters, no one treats my disorder as a teenage rebellion, like some psychologists did in Ukraine.”