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What is the impact of war on children’s mental health?

Two children writing a peace message on the wall

Two children writing a peace message on the wall

 How does war impact children’s mental health?

Anybody who has seen war can attest to its devastation, but children are particularly vulnerable to its effects. Children’s mental health has been particularly susceptible to the psychological and emotional repercussions of war in Ukraine and Russia, where the war has been ongoing.

Children’s reactions to conflict can take many different forms and have a wide range of effects. For many children, the experience of war can lead to PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Many symptoms, such as nightmares, anxiety, flashbacks, and emotional distress, might be a result of PTSD. The risks for PTSD, severe anxiety, and moderate to severe/severe depression could be considerably raised in children who live in conflict-affected areas of Ukraine and were exposed to battle.

Addressing the trauma of children impacted by the atrocities of war is a complex task that requires a multifaceted approach. Providing mental health support for children who have experienced the trauma of war is essential. Therapy and counselling, as well as support groups and other ways to help children cope with their experiences is necessary as a means of mental health support. One effective form of therapy for children could be art therapy. Children who have experienced war trauma may benefit from art therapy to help them process their feelings, replay their memories in a safe space in an attempt to make sense of it, and tell their story.

What is Art Therapy?

Art therapy is a type of psychotherapy that makes use of visual self-expression and communication through art. Because of the creative and visual component of art therapy, it is a form of therapy that is well-suited to children, who may struggle to articulate their emotions verbally. Art therapy can be a safe and non-threatening way for children to express their emotions, allowing them to explore their feelings and experiences through a creative medium.

 What are the benefits of art therapy for children of war?

       Art therapy has a number of benefits for children who have experienced trauma from war. One article by the International Journal of Art Therapy evaluated two key aspects of art therapy, being that art therapy had the ability to provide refugee children with a safe, secure space to heal and discover their new selves, and that it gave refugee children a voice to express and share their stories.

The effectiveness of art therapy for children was examined in a different study that was published in The Arts in Psychotherapy. The results of the study revealed that art therapy sessions had moderate impacts on anxiety, panic disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and significant effects on separation anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. This suggests that art therapy can be an effective tool for reducing the presenting symptoms of trauma in refugee children. The participants’ increased positivity and interest in art-related activities, as well as their use of coping mechanisms and social support, were behavioural indicators of the participants’ lower levels of stress.

According to the results of the research on children’s mental health, Children who have experienced trauma from the Ukraine-Russia war may benefit from art therapy, Many studies have shown that art therapy could be useful in lowering symptoms of PTSD, depression, and anxiety symptoms as well as in regulating emotions and boosting self-esteem. Children can express their emotions and make connections with others via art therapy in a secure and non-intrusive environment. Parents who are concerned about the mental health needs of their children who were impacted by the war in Ukraine could try out art therapy.

What are the free mental health services for refugee children?

Individuals with an active refugee status in Ontario may be eligible for mental health services. If you and your child have a refugee status in Ontario, you may be eligible to receive free psychotherapy services at Therapedia Centre. It is important that the psychotherapist who will be treating your child, has training in art therapy or play therapy as well, as children often use the universal language of art and/or play in an attempt to express themselves.

Our psychotherapists in downtown Toronto are trained in art therapy as well and will be able to provide online or in person sessions to meet your therapeutic needs.

To find out if you are eligible to receive free psychotherapy services for yourself or your child, contact us here.




Written by: Raymond Z




Feen-Calligan, H., Ruvolo Grasser, L., Debryn, J., Nasser, S., Jackson, C., Seguin, D., & Javanbakht, A. (2020). Art therapy with Syrian Refugee Youth in the United States: An intervention study. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 69, 101665.

Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2022, December 13). Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved March 2, 2023, from

Osokina, O., Silwal, S., Bohdanova, T., Hodes, M., Sourander, A., & Skokauskas, N. (2023). Impact of the Russian invasion on Mental Health of adolescents in Ukraine. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 62(3), 335–343.

Zahra Akthar & Andrew Lovell (2019) Art therapy with refugee children: a qualitative study explored through the lens of art therapists and their experiences, International Journal of Art Therapy, 24:3, 139-148, DOI: 10.1080/17454832.2018.1533571





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