Danish mentally ill patients appear to have experienced worsening of symptoms in connection with the invasion of Ukraine. This is shown by a new study from Aarhus University and Aarhus University Hospital – Psychiatry.
War on European soil is a rare event, and for many, February 24, 2022 will therefore be remembered as an exceptionally dark day in history. It was the day Russian troops began the invasion of neighboring Ukraine. Since then, hostilities have claimed tens of thousands of lives and driven more than ten million Ukrainians from their homes.
War has serious psychological consequences for those directly involved in it. A new study now suggests that Danish patients with mental disorders are also affected by the current situation in Ukraine.
Analysis of more than 500,000 clinical notes from medical records
As part of the research project, Søren Dinesen Østergaard, Christopher Rohde and Oskar Hougaard Jefsen analyzed more than 500,000 clinical notes from medical records from psychiatric hospitals in the Central Region of Denmark for the period from January 1 to March 8, 2022. Via an electronic search, the researchers identified the subset of clinical notes containing the word “Ukraine”.
The results of the study confirmed our hypothesis, as we saw a large increase in the number of clinical notes referring to Ukraine immediately after the invasion. 62% of these notes described patients who experienced worsening anxiety, post-traumatic stress, delusions or hallucinations, which appear to be war-related. »
Søren Dinesen Østergaard, Professor in the Department of Clinical Medicine at Aarhus University and the Department of Affective Disorders at Aarhus University Hospital – Psychiatry
Søren Dinesen Østergaard, however, points out that it is difficult to document a causal relationship between the war in Ukraine and patient symptom levels.
“For obvious reasons, we cannot conduct a randomized controlled study of the effect of war on humans, and based on the results of our study, we cannot be absolutely certain that war has really affected our The hypothesis is, however, entirely plausible, and the clear temporal association between invasion and increased clinical scores describing worsening symptoms, suggests that we have identified a real effect,” explains he.
In line with previous studies on terrorism
Søren Dinesen Østergaard has previously participated in research projects that have examined the effect of terrorist attacks outside Denmark on the psychological well-being of the general Danish population. The results of these studies are consistent with those of the new study from Ukraine.
“In our previous studies, we have documented an increase in the number of contacts with psychiatric hospitals in Denmark due to stress and adjustment disorders in the period following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States, as well as ‘after the Breivik bombings in Oslo and Uttøya,’ he says and continues:
“I think the same mechanisms are at play in the current situation. So it appears that war and terrorism have negative psychological consequences far beyond the borders of the countries that are directly affected,” says Søren Dinesen Østergaard.
What are the consequences?
According to the researcher, we can learn a number of things from the study.
“The results of the study suggest that the war in Ukraine probably has side effects that require special attention. Specifically, in psychiatric services, we must be aware of the possibility that some of our patients may be very negatively affected by the situation. Many of our patients were already under significant pressure before the war due to the COVID-19 pandemic and may therefore be extremely sensitive at this time, ”says Søren Dinesen Østergaard, who ends by putting the results of the research in perspective:
“It is important to bear in mind that the negative psychological impact we are experiencing in Denmark is nothing compared to what the Ukrainian population is experiencing, including Ukrainians who fled the war.”
Search results – more information:
Type of study: The research project is based on an analysis of a total of 567,647 clinical notes from psychiatric hospitals in the central region of Denmark for the period from January 1 to March 8, 2022. Through an electronic search, the researchers identified the subset of clinical notes containing the word “Ukraine”.
Funding: The study is supported by Aarhus University Hospital – Psychiatry and the Department of Clinical Medicine of Aarhus University.
Ostergaard, SD, et al. (2022) Deterioration of mentally ill patients in Denmark coinciding with the invasion of Ukraine. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica. doi.org/10.1111/acps.13440.