Support for students affected by War, Conflict and Disaster

29 November 2022

Two members from the War, Conflict and Disaster Support Team share how this service can support international and home students at UCL.

student counselling

Introduction from Dr. Charlie Cole, Support Team Lead

One glance of the news headlines and we are faced with stories of human suffering owing to experiences of war, conflict and natural, manmade disaster or civil unrest, to a point that can feel overwhelming. As a safe bystander, reports of traumatic events can be unrelatable or hard to engage with, but for many international students at UCL the suffering is close to home when they are from, or have close ties to, the affected country and are fearing for the lives or safety of loved ones.

As a “global university”, UCL has a responsibility to ensure that students facing these circumstances are able to learn, develop and thrive. Therefore, we have taken steps to offer additional support to those affected by war, conflict or disaster. This support includes sessions of Psychological First Aid (PFA); a World Health Organisation (WHO) endorsed framework for offering “humane, supportive and practical help to fellow human beings suffering serious crisis events”.

In these sessions, students are reassured to learn that their feelings are entirely normal given what they are going through and are helped to think of ways to cope with the distress they are experiencing.  

Since April 2022, the team has supported students of many different nationalities, with each student referral reviewed on a case by case basis. All international, dual-national, and home UCL students (including those who are domiciled abroad) are eligible.

Q&A with Amal Issa, PFA Supporter

Tell us a little bit about yourself and why you started working with the Psychological First Aid Support team?

Hi, my name is Amal Issa, I am the Deputy Team Lead as well as a PFA Supporter, I offer psychosocial support to UCL students experiencing distress due to war, conflict and disaster. 

I am originally from Hargeisa, Somaliland, my family fled to the UK when I was 3 years old as a civil war had broken out in my country. Therefore, I have seen the impact a long-lasting war and conflict has had on my community. I was eager to get involved with this service; a well needed programme, proven by the recent uptake of students. The immediacy and flexibility of PFA allows the team to proactively support students amidst the distress rather than the student waiting to receive psychological therapy many months later (due to waitlists), if the distress remains. 

What are the different types of guidance and support you have given to students?

On one hand, some students have required practical support regarding extensions, visas, or finances. Whilst others have needed more emotional support, in the form of empathy and comfort.

For most students, 2-4 sessions have been adequate in managing the distress, whilst others have needed onward referrals whilst the PFA sessions end. I understand and acknowledge that each student’s experience will be unique to them, as a result I always tailor the session to their specific needs.

What do you feel students you have supported have gained from accessing the service?

I have supported students from many different countries. From positive student feedback, this confidential space has been helpful and encouraged students to make sense of their emotions when they may not previously have had the space to do so. I am very proud to be a part of one of the only universities to offer such support to their students, and I hope we can continue to support many more in the future.

If you would like to speak to one of our PFA  Supporters, all you need to do is speak to a Student Adviser. Likewise, if you belong to a Student Society representing a country impacted by a war, conflict, crisis or disaster, and think that the team’s support may be helpful, please get in touch – we are here for you!