School Of Medicine To Aid Ukrainians Suffering Mental Health Effects Of Severe Trauma
It’s been more than a year since Russian forces invaded Ukraine, and a mental health crisis of epic proportions is unfolding, says Dr. Israel Liberzon, distinguished university professor and head of psychiatry at the Texas A&M University School of Medicine. Liberzon is the lead principle investigator of a team funded by the National Institutes Health (NIH), that will work to ensure access to evidence-based trauma care for the Ukrainian people.
“It’s horrific what the Ukrainian people have endured — there are hundreds of thousands of traumatized people. It’s a mental health catastrophe,” said Liberzon, a leading authority on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who founded the Department of Psychiatry at Texas A&M in 2018.
Under his leadership, Texas A&M heads the team of experts from several U.S. and one Ukrainian university, as well as the Zelenskaya Initiative for Mental Health, a campaign launched by First Lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska. The project is being funded by a $1.4 million NIH Fogarty Grant which will allow Liberzon and his colleagues to travel to Ukraine to identify, recruit and train specialists there — both psychiatrists and psychologists — in trauma care, and also bring Ukranian specialists to Texas for focused training.
Liberzon said the idea came after discussions with Dr. Tetiana Nickelsen, a research scientist in his lab; both Liberzon and Nickelsen were born in Ukraine.
“We were hearing of the atrocities and bombings, terrible traumas, millions of displaced people,” Liberzon said. “We all felt terrible about that and thought we needed to do something. We realized there is no evidence-based care for trauma in Ukraine. The care is either not provided at all or provided, but ineffective.”
In partnership with the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, the project team will not just train professionals in Ukraine, they will follow progress to learn — in this real-world, mass mental health crisis — what kinds of interventions work.
“It’s not enough just to teach, medical care needs to be implemented and disseminated,” Liberzon said. “How well was it implemented, what were the barriers, how do we manage them, and so on. It’s a chance both to help people who are traumatized by mass violence, and also to learn more about trauma care in a real-world setting.”
Dr. Marcia Ory, a Distinguished Professor in the Texas A&M School of Public Health, will lead the implementation aspects of this project.
Liberzon said he is currently working to arrange travel to Ukraine for team members and hopes to begin work during the summer.
Additional project partners are: University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston; University of Michigan; Emory University; and Medical University of South Carolina.
Liberzon said he’s grateful to his partners and also to Texas A&M leadership, including School of Medicine Dean Dr. Amy Waer, for supporting the endeavor.