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Decentralisation and community stakeholders’ engagement for better mental health services development in the conflict-affected regions of Ukraine

Vitalii Klymchuk (Mental Health for Ukraine Project, Zhytomyr, Ukraine)
Krystyna Vysotska (Mental Health for Ukraine Project, Lviv, Ukraine)
Viktoriia V. Gorbunova (Zhytomyr Ivan Franko State University, Zhytomyr, Ukraine)

Journal of Public Mental Health

ISSN: 1746-5729

Article publication date: 10 October 2022

Issue publication date: 28 November 2022




The purpose of this paper is to explore how conflict-affected communities in Ukraine (the Lugansk region) can develop sustainable mental health services in decentralised settings. The main interest focuses on community stakeholders’ perception of their problems and solutions that communities can create to achieve better mental health coverage.


A series of roundtables (RTs) (4 RTs, 62 participants overall), accompanied by interactive brainstorming techniques, were conducted with communities’ representatives/stakeholders from the East of Ukraine (Lugansk region, a government-controlled area) during the year 2021. Participants (health, mental health, social care workers and administration representatives) were provided with the opportunity to discuss mental health services’ development challenges and create affordable solutions for their communities. Results of discussions were submitted to qualitative analysis and offered for review by participants.


Decentralisation in Ukraine led to allocating funds alongside responsibilities for developing the services to communities. Most of the communities appear not to be ready to acknowledge the role of mental health services, entirely relying on the existing weak psychiatric hospital-based system. Awareness-raising interactive capacity-building activities for the community leaders and decision-makers effectively promote community-based mental health services development. Five clusters of challenges were identified: leadership, coordination and collaboration problems; infrastructure, physical accessibility and financial problems; mental health and primary health-care workforce shortage and lack of competencies; low awareness of mental health and available services and high stigma; war, crises and pandemic-related problems. Communities stakeholders foresaw seven domains of action: increasing the role of communities and service users in the initiatives of governmental bodies; establishing in the communities local coordination/working groups dedicated to mental health service development; developing the community-based spaces (hubs) for integrated services provision; embedding the mental health services in the existing services (social, administrative and health care); mental health advocacy and lobbying led by local leaders and service users; increasing capacity of communities in financial management, fundraising; developing services by combining efforts and budgets of neighbouring communities.

Research limitations/implications

The study has potential limitations. Participants of the roundtables were mostly appointed by local authorities, so some of them didn`t have a motivation for mental health services development. Service users were involved only from the facilitators` side, not from the side of communities; therefore, it was impossible to include their view of problems and solutions. Obtained data were limited to the opinion of local professionals, administration workers and other local stakeholders. The human rights aspect was not clearly articulated in the tasks of the roundtables.


To the best of the authors’ knowledge, the paper is original in terms of its topic (connecting decentralisation and local stakeholders’ engagement for understanding the challenges of mental health services development) and research strategy (engagement of Ukrainian communities, qualitative analysis of the discussion results and applying the best practices and international recommendations to the local context).



The paper is written with the support of the “Mental health for Ukraine Project” (MH4U), implemented in Ukraine by GFA Consulting Group GmbH and funded by Switzerland through the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. The project aims to improve mental health outcomes among the Ukrainian population. MH4U provided funds for RTs organisation, transportation and accommodation of participants. The sponsor was not involved in the study design, collection, analysis and interpretation of the data or preparation of the article.

Conflicts of Interest: All authors declare no conflict of interest.


Klymchuk, V., Vysotska, K. and Gorbunova, V.V. (2022), "Decentralisation and community stakeholders’ engagement for better mental health services development in the conflict-affected regions of Ukraine", Journal of Public Mental Health, Vol. 21 No. 4, pp. 288-302.



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