People across the world may find they struggle with their mental health during times of global conflict. This does not affect only those in active combat — these are humanitarian crises, impacting an entire community or region and beyond. This page addresses how your mental health might be affected by major conflict events like war, terrorism, geopolitical tension, territorial disputes, and political instability.
Global events impact people across the world. Maybe you have family in the conflict zone, are worried about increases in identity-based hate, or have no personal ties but are constantly seeing graphic images online. The mental health of the civilian population is one of the most significant impacts of war and major conflict. Whether you’re directly or indirectly affected by the crisis, your feelings are valid.
Common emotional responses to global conflict
Watching a crisis unfold can trigger different kinds of responses. There isn’t a “right way” to react to events like this, and everyone is unique in their emotions and needs. Some common feelings include:
- Grief. It’s painful to see other humans suffering. All significant conflict comes with some loss — of people, resources, culture. Even without a personal connection, it’s normal to experience grief for the world and what you imagine others more heavily impacted are dealing with.
- Depression and sadness. Many people feel underlying sadness during times of global conflict — they know something terrible is happening, but they don’t know how to help. As the conflict goes on, feelings of hopelessness may get stronger.
- Fear and anxiety. Global conflict causes high levels of stress worldwide. There are a lot of unknowns and uncertainties, and often real dangers are present.
- Anger. It’s common to get angry when you feel threatened, and many people feel threatened or powerless during times of major conflict or war. It’s normal to feel more irritable or impatient than usual. Unfortunately, this can also lead to more violence among individuals and communities.
- Guilt. You might feel guilty when you see people experience pain that they don’t deserve. It’s devastating and unfair, but it’s not your fault that you’re safe. Or maybe you feel guilty for being affected by a conflict because you’re safe, for not knowing enough about the issue, or for not “picking a side.” Global conflict brings high tension — all you can do is focus on what is in your control.
All of these are completely normal, and there’s no limit to what other feelings can come up. You might experience emotions like jealousy, pride, embarrassment, hope, and more. Many people feel conflicting emotions at the same time.
Coping with Global Conflict and Distress
Whether you’re directly or indirectly affected by distressing worldwide events, the following evidence-based tips can help protect your mental health during times of conflict:
- If you’re in or near the conflict zone, ensure the physical safety of emergency, essential, and treasured belongings, by, for example, placing them in a fireproof safe and making additional copies of identifications and important paperwork.
- Connect to loved ones and those with shared experiences.
- Lean into your personal coping techniques to help lower stress.
- Be aware that your own trauma history, especially discrimination or hate-based trauma, may be triggered during these times.
- Make time to problem-solve. Thinking of the next steps and actions you can take could bring you some peace.
- Ask for help if you need it, and help others if you’re able.
Everyone will experience and respond to large global conflicts unfolding in their own way.
Understanding fear and trauma
Many people, regardless of their connection to the conflict, will experience trauma as events transpire. The trauma of living through a time of global conflict can be complicated by other types of trauma, like intergenerational, historical, or racial trauma.
Grief and anger in times of conflict
World events can be particularly hard to cope with because they're so far beyond our individual control. Feeling frustrated, demoralized, or at a loss on how to move forward is common.
Dealing with traumatic online and news content
It can feel impossible to escape the constant stream of images, videos, and news coverage when global tensions are high — and especially during or after a specific conflict. Social media and online platforms can be a hotspot for misinformation, hostile arguments, and graphic content that you aren’t necessarily expecting to see.
We can't protect young people from knowing what's happening in the world, but we can help them make sense of it. Depending on their age, they're already hearing about current events in school or on social media and really need an adult to help them fact-check and understand what is happening. If they're too young to find the information on their own, it's still likely that they're picking up on the tension that adults in their lives are feeling.
Connecting with community
Global conflicts always harm certain identity groups more than others. Many people see and feel hate against their country, race, culture, religion, or other identities. Connecting with others who feel a similar impact of the crisis can provide you with a sense of validation, belonging, and safety during a scary time.
While these resources are a starting point, it's likely that you'll find support more relevant to your own experience through resources created by your community, for your community.
Self-care during direct advocacy work
In times of devastation, many people find helping others to be one of the best ways to support their own mental health. Taking action can reduce feelings of helplessness, but it can also be difficult to face the same heavy topic over and over again.
Racism, discrimination, and identity-based hate
Global conflicts are political and intersectional — and, unfortunately, often drive hate speech and direct community and/or interpersonal conflict. As identity groups become targeted in response to global conflict, it's essential to know your rights and options.
Sexual assault and domestic violence
Violence often leads to more violence. Studies have shown that rates of domestic violence rise during and after war and conflict as stress levels increase, families are displaced, and the impacts of trauma set in among both soldiers and civilians.