The object of the conference was to discuss the options for the public and private participants to cooperate, with a view to streamlining the mental healthcare available to Ukrainian refugees.


United Way the Netherlands: Machiel Salomons, Floris de Gelder (online), Henry Weinstein, Jeroen Lindhout, Douglas Kowitz, Olena Tiutiunnyk, Polina Borysenko

Amplio Health: Rutger Engels

Opora Foundation, Empatia project: Olga Korol 

Vluchtelingenwerk: Semina Hodzic, Saskia Beugel, Michal Brzozowsk

Ahti (Amsterdam Health & Technology Institute): Paulien Tensen,  Steven van de Vijver 

Amsterdam Municipal Council: Wilco Tuinebreijer

The conference sought to clarify and communicate the distinct, collaborative methodology designed by United Way the Netherlands (UW-NL) to address the ongoing mental health crisis among Ukrainian refugees in the Netherlands. UW-NL Director Machiel Salomons had invited the key contenders in this field, each of whom plays a major role in aiding access to mental health services benefiting Ukrainian refugees. The focus of the meeting was the prospect of cooperation, identifying commonalities and potentially shared resources. This could serve each party’s interests and achieve a unifying approach to a common cause. Each party was offered the opportunity to share their initiatives and methods, discuss the status of their projects along with their success stories and raise questions or concerns about current issues relating to refugee mental healthcare. 

The Dutch branch of United Way was founded in 2019. It is already recognized as an established constituent in the international network of United Way Worldwide, which was founded in the United States 135 years ago. UW-NL’s focus is on impact by identifying missing components in the Netherlands’ current mental healthcare systems through participatory assessment programmes. 

UW-NL’s nationwide mental health programme Healing the Mind started with the signing of a contract with the municipality of Hoorn. Subsequently, its success inspired considerable growth. A number of Dutch municipalities proved eager to find aid for their ongoing struggle to provide mental healthcare for their refugees. In Maastricht, for example, UW-NL’s programme has enrolled approximately 100 refugees. Most recently, a contract was signed for four counsellors to provide care to refugees displaying antisocial behaviour following their relocation in Alphen aan den Rijn. 

Polina Borysenko, the head of UW-NL’s mental health project, presented the status of the current mental health provisions. The Healing the Mind Project is presently active in Hoorn, Maastricht, Amsterdam, Utrecht, Houten, Nieuwegein and Alphen aan den Rijn. The project focuses on existing and prospective clients in correlation with the allocated counsellors. It also identifies new municipalities interested in joining the programme later this year (Den Haag, Hilversum and Rotterdam). 

UW-NL is currently engaged in discussions, facilitated by United Way UK, to work with HealthEmove, which offers mobile digital ownership of users’ health records, which may be shared with trusted healthcare providers all over Europe. This will benefit displaced persons who are frequently required to relocate. In this way, their health records can effectively be translated and communicated in languages and locations all over the world.

The fact that UW-NL works with Ukrainian counsellors tears down the cultural and language barriers that arise for many other refugee healthcare providers. The use of native Ukrainian and Russian speakers has proven to be a successful model, enhanced by United Way’s partnership with Amplio Health. Amplio is a pioneering digital mental healthcare platform based in the UK and in the Netherlands. The platform was founded a year ago by accomplished professionals who have earned their stripes working from the Trimbos Institute and the WHO. Amplio’s Europe-wide network consists of trained and licensed clinical psychologists and psychiatrists, supervisors trained in CBT and other specialists. 

UW-NL’s cooperative work with Amplio Health includes additional training for the existing network of Ukrainian counsellors. If and when the need arises for specific care in cases involving the risk and prevention of suicide, these counsellors are able to refer their clients to Amplio, which offers its clients a programme of ten sessions with a favourable prognosis. As yet, this healthcare is non-refundable by the Dutch health insurance services.

For Empatia, a leading counterpart in refugee mental healthcare in the Netherlands, Olga Korol spoke of its activities. Empatia serves as a bridge between displaced Ukrainians in the Netherlands and the Dutch healthcare system. It acts as an information guide, while also matching Ukrainian psychologists with the relevant institutions for refugee-related care. Empatia has access to a large network of Ukrainian psychologists with the appropriate qualifications to work in the Netherlands. Korol noted the fact that conflicts arising from the cultural differences between Ukrainian refugees and Dutch health workers often result from an inability to communicate their needs effectively. Empatia’s hotline provides information for Ukrainians about how and where to find the help they need free of charge.  This is enabled by the support of the Dutch government, municipalities and insurance companies. The Dutch Council for Refugees (Vluchtelingenwerk), which had three representatives in the meeting, is also involved.

Psychiatrist Wilco Tuinebreijer represented the Amsterdam Municipal Council. He spoke of the importance the city places on the mental health of refugees. The council is particularly concerned about the more serious cases such as suicide, eviction and behavioural and drug problems. Empatia is a partner in its efforts to alleviate this. Suicide prevention has proven to be one of the most challenging issues. The often high level of anxiety among refugees can make it difficult for them to reach out for help. 

While Empatia can guide refugees through the Dutch system, it cannot offer immediate referrals to psychiatrists and other relevant specialists. Another challenge is the definition of severe cases, especially when the specialists working for emergency services cannot speak Ukrainian. In such cases, communication must be effected through a third party, thus increasing the risk of deterioration and lowering the efficiency of the care on offer. This is where Amplio can make a difference, since it provides immediate access to psychiatric care and medication where needed.

All parties acknowledged the need for a formalized framework enabling mental help 24/7. While questions about the nature of such a collaborative effort remain, UW-NL’s team strongly believes that joining forces will not only benefit all parties by sharing their knowledge and resources. It would also inspire the municipalities to recognize the severity of the issues faced by refugees. UW-NL has a large network of corporate supporters. In addition, it is currently conducting talks with the CEO of United Way Worldwide, who has offered UWW’s consultancy services on this matter. 

Machiel Salomons concluded the conference with the suggestion to form a multi-party dedicated team, which is experienced in refugee care and able to solve the issues around severe cases. However, a letter addressed to the municipal authorities which reflects these common concerns should first be signed by all stakeholders represented at the conference. 

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