Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology

, Volume 54, Issue 10, pp 1265–1274 | Cite as

Patterns of somatic distress among internally displaced persons in Ukraine: analysis of a cross-sectional survey

  • Anson Cheung
  • Nino Makhashvili
  • Jana Javakhishvili
  • Andrey Karachevsky
  • Natalia Kharchenko
  • Marina Shpiker
  • Bayard RobertsEmail author
Original Paper



There are often high rates of mental disorders in low- and middle-income countries during humanitarian crises, but the prevalence of somatic distress (SD) is underreported in the existing health service research. We aim to examine the patterns of SD among internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Ukraine, who were forcibly displaced due to the ongoing conflict in the country’s eastern region.


The study design was a cross-sectional survey of 2203 adult IDPs throughout Ukraine. The survey collected data on sociodemographic characteristics, traumatic life events (Life Events Checklist), utilisation of mental health care services, and self-reported outcomes of SD (Patient Health Questionnaire 15), anxiety (Generalised Anxiety Disorder 7), depression (Patient Health Questionnaire 9), and post-traumatic stress (PTSD Checklist). Descriptive and multivariate regression analyses were used.


Over half of respondents (n = 1142, 55%) were identified as being at risk of SD (PHQ-15 score ≥ 6), and the prevalence of moderate (n = 377, 18%) and high severity SD risk (n = 275, 13%) was substantial. There were significant associations (p < 0.05) between SD and age, female gender, economic status, self-reported depression and post-traumatic stress, and multiple trauma exposures. Being at risk of SD was also significantly associated with increased functional disability. Use of mental health care services was low across this population and only high SD risk seemed to be a reliable predictor of care-seeking behaviour.


There is a significant risk of SD among IDPs in Ukraine. Our results illustrate the need for targeted health service research and regional programs to ensure that mental health needs are appropriately met.


Conflict Health services IDPs Mental health Somatic distress Ukraine 



Internally displaced person


Post-traumatic stress disorder


Mental health and psychosocial support


Somatic distress


Patient Health Questionnaire 15


Generalised Anxiety Disorder 7


Patient Health Questionnaire 9


Post-traumatic stress symptoms


Post-traumatic stress disorder checklist for DSM-5


World Health Organization disability assessment schedule, version 2


Life events checklist


Kiev International Institute of Sociology


Odds ratio


Confidence interval



We would like to thank the respondents participating in this study and the staff assisting with data collection for their contributions. This work was supported by a grant from the European Union’s Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP) under a project entitled “Psychosocial needs for peace: trauma rehabilitation and civic activism in Ukraine”. The project was implemented by International Alert UK.


The funder did not play a role in data collection, analysis, or interpretation.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.

Ethical standards

All aspects of this study comply with institutional and national guidelines on research and human experimentation, in addition to the most recent revision of the Declaration of Helsinki.

Supplementary material

127_2019_1652_MOESM1_ESM.docx (13 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 12 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anson Cheung
    • 1
  • Nino Makhashvili
    • 2
    • 3
  • Jana Javakhishvili
    • 2
    • 3
  • Andrey Karachevsky
    • 4
  • Natalia Kharchenko
    • 5
  • Marina Shpiker
    • 5
  • Bayard Roberts
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Centre for Global Chronic ConditionsLondon School of Hygiene and Tropical MedicineLondonUK
  2. 2.Ilia State UniversityTbilisiGeorgia
  3. 3.Global Initiative on PsychiatryTbilisiGeorgia
  4. 4.Shayk National Medical AcademyKievUkraine
  5. 5.Kiev International Institute of SociologyKievUkraine

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