Updated: Sep 10
HBS alumni apply innovative approaches to deliver tailored mental health programs and treatment.
In May 2022, three months after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, three Harvard Business School alumni were already preparing for the country’s needs beyond the conflict. Mental health is an often overlooked casualty of war, and a mid-2022 survey showed that 40% of Ukrainians already met the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a number likely to rise over time. Elizabeth Ames (MBA ’85) was determined to do something to help, so she enlisted HBS sectionmates Elaine Klein (MBA ’85) and Colin Greenstreet (MBA ’85) as co-founders of nonprofit Heal Ukraine Trauma (healtraumas.org). Along with two other co-founders, a leading Kyiv-based psychologist and a nonprofit leader experienced in conflict zones, they are working to create mental health programs to help Ukrainian adults and children to heal from conflict-related trauma.
CEO Ames is motivated by her personal experience of PTSD as well as her deep connection to Ukraine, as she helped launch the country’s first Peace Corps program in the 1990s and has maintained strong ties to the country since. “It’s vital that we focus on the mental health impact of this crisis now, because the earlier we can intervene and provide support, the sooner people can heal,” she said.
Ames’ career has spanned private, public, not-for-profit and international sectors. Before starting Heal Ukraine Trauma, she served in the Massachusetts State Cabinet and as Senior Policy Advisor for Economic Affairs and Technology to two Governors. Her time at HBS proved significant for all she’s achieved since, especially the network it fostered. “We’re so grateful for all the volunteer and financial support we received from the HBS community as we’ve launched and grown Heal Ukraine Trauma, particularly our classmates in Section D and the class of ’85,” Ames said.
Klein serves as Board President, while Greenstreet leads development and strategy for Heal Ukraine Trauma. After successful careers in consulting and as executives with global biopharma companies, both have turned their attention to nonprofit work. Each founder is motivated by the geopolitical importance of Ukraine and the humanitarian imperative to help Ukrainians heal from the invisible scars of war. Their strategy is shaped by research into mental healthcare in Ukraine, advice from international and Ukrainian mental health experts, and by the five founders’ wide-ranging experience in business, healthcare and international development.
“As a small nonprofit, we are focusing our efforts to achieve impact in the most urgent areas of need,” Klein said. “We bring global experts, technology and Ukrainian partners together, acting as a catalyst to advance novel and scalable solutions to address these needs.”
The nonprofit has launched several programs for children and has more in development. Already, 500 Ukrainian children have completed the Teaching Recovery Techniques (TRT) program, implemented in collaboration with a partner NGO. The evidence-based program teaches children how to cope with traumatic stress from the war and helps to reduce the risk of long-term mental health effects. Heal Ukraine Trauma is also working to adapt this program for Ukrainian children with special needs, in partnership with a Ukrainian research institute.
Veterans and first responders are another important target for support. Building on the growing body of evidence supporting psychedelic-assisted therapy (PAT) for the treatment of severe PTSD, and an anticipated submission to the U.S. FDA this year, Heal Ukraine Trauma sponsored a medical conference this May on PAT for severe PTSD in veterans. Organized by the Ukrainian Psychedelic Research Association, one of Heal Ukraine Trauma’s partner organizations, at the leading military psychiatric hospital in Kyiv, the well-attended conference sparked a governmental reform effort to assess therapeutic psychedelics.
After more than 18 months, the war continues and the mental health toll climbs. Recently, the World Health Organization estimated that around 11 million Ukrainians will suffer from mental health disorders requiring treatment, with 2 million of those suffering from severe mental health disorders due to the war. The leaders of Heal Ukraine Trauma hope to combat this challenge by expanding their programs to provide accessible support throughout the country.
Their ambitions in tackling conflict-related PTSD are broader than Ukraine’s borders, too: registered as Heal Traumas International, the nonprofit plans to apply learnings from Ukraine to other conflict-plagued countries in the future.
Anne Wallentine is a writer and art historian with a focus on the intersections of art, culture, and health. She has written for outlets that include the Financial Times, The Economist, The Art Newspaper, and Hyperallergic. She graduated from Washington University in St. Louis (BA) and the Courtauld Institute of Art (MA).