Photo: Joonas Brandt

Health & wellbeing

In March, the "Safe Mind" project was launched by the Finnish Red Cross to develop group activities that strengthen the well-being of those who have fled conflict. The initiative also aims to create support practices for the well-being of volunteers and enhance the cultural sensitivity of Red Cross staff and volunteers in providing psychosocial support. The project emphasizes empowering those who have fled conflicts to take an active role in both their communities and society.

Fleeing one's homeland often involves many mental health challenges, such as traumatic experiences in the country of origin, concerns about the well-being of loved ones, loneliness, and the difficulties of adapting to a new culture. However, most individuals find ways to cope with their experiences, often through the support of close relationships and a sense of social belonging.

The "Safe Mind" project aims to support conflict-displaced individuals in recognizing factors that contribute to their well-being and resilience. In group sessions organized by Red Cross volunteers, well-being-related themes are explored through shared activities. Cultural-sensitive activities help participants, for instance, identify their strengths and learn techniques to manage overwhelming emotions.

Sofia Sateila Lopes Gabriela, the project's psychosocial support planner and a researcher on refugees' mental health, notes that during ongoing conflicts, people often seek community-building and stress-relieving activities. She stresses the importance of not viewing those receiving support merely as passive recipients, but as active agents who possess strengths to influence their own situations. It is crucial that support measures take cultural specificities into account.

"Building Community Is Crucial"

Yevheniia Vorobiova, who led well-being activities for Ukrainians in the Finnish Red Cross Turunmaa district, knows firsthand how best to support those who have fled conflicts. Lessons from Vorobiova's developed activities for her fellow Ukrainians are now applied in the project.

Vorobiova, like Sateila Lopes Gabriela, emphasizes that helping those who have come to Finland is not about making them passive recipients of aid. The project's aim is to train them to facilitate psychological and social adjustment activities for other conflict-displaced individuals.

"Finnish people can help those who have fled conflicts come together and recognize their own abilities," Vorobiova remarks.

Through the development process of the project, valuable insights are gained directly from the target group on how volunteer work can support the mental health of those who have fled conflicts. The project allows them to define what well-being means to them and what it entails. The methods developed through the project can be utilized in future work with different language groups.

Additionally, within the project's framework, several webinars are being organized for professionals and volunteers working in the social and health sectors, education, and multicultural fields.

The project is funded by the European Commission's Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety. It is part of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies' EU4Health joint project, which aims to share psychosocial support expertise among the Red Cross Societies of Ukraine and 24 other European countries. The project will continue until June 2025.