Punitive Psychiatry Returning with a Vengeance in Putin’s Russia

January 24, 2016
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov | RFE/RL

Psychologists Tell Russians Complaining of ‘Problems with Russia’ to Avoid Reading Pessimistic Commentaries

Staunton, VA, January 24, 2016 — Faced with a deteriorating situation in Russia and feeling that there is nothing they can do as individuals to change it, ever more Russians are suffering from depression and other psychological complaints and asking doctors what they can do to improve their mental health given that they have “problems with Russia.”

The Zozhnik.ru portal asked three Russian psychologists – Elena Tatarinova, Yekaterina Nagornov, and Natalya Oshemkova — what advice they were giving how how people should “correctly conduct themselves in the existing situation.”
Their collective advice is simple: Russians have to accept that crises come and go and that they have little or no influence on the course of events. Consequently, the psychologists say, the best thing is to ignore bad news as much as possible and to rely on family and close friends for support in what are difficult times.
Tatarinova says that all people always go through times of stress. The important thing is how they cope with it. Every individual who feels stress can reduce it either by identifying others on whom he or she can rely or by avoiding reading or watching television shows that simply increase stress without providing any real information.
Nagornova suggests that what is most important is for the individual to recognize what he or she can change and what he or she can’t and thus not pay too much attention on developments or reports about them in areas that the individual has no power to do anything about. She agrees that it is important to avoid texts and programs that simply increase fears and stress.
She says that “reading unfavorable predictions can only lead to despair and unhappiness and, as a result, to apathy and the loss of vital force. Besides, thoughts about how everything is poor have the capacity to dominate consciousness even though they are unproductive and offer no way out. Don’t provoke yourself,” Nagornova says.
Tatarinova says that Russians who are depressed with condition of their country should not take extra vitamins and tablets. Instead, they should narrow their focus to their immediate concerns and avoid issues likely to prompt them to think dark thoughts about their country and the world.
Both Tatarinova and Nagornova say that Russians should not be afraid of turning to psychologists and psychiatrists to help them overcome their problems. Sometimes one or only a few conversations with such experts will help Russian identify what they should be doing to improve their mental well-being.
Oshemkina, a psychologist with the Moscow Center for Contemporary Psychotechnology, says that she and other experts at her institution ever more often have having to deal with people who are depressed about Russia and are uncertain about what they should be doing. She offers four broad pieces of advice.
First, she says, individuals should set individual goals about things they control and not worry about anything else. Second, they should avoid things like news reports or commentaries that generate stress. Paying too much attention to such things, she suggests, can be harmful to your health and reduce personal effectiveness.
Third, Oshemkina says, people should identify how they can really rest either alone or with others. They should avoid reading an hour before trying to go to sleep and also not use computers or smart phones then lest the light from them keep them awake. Further, it won’t hurt to take melatonin.
And fourth, “if you situation becomes markedly worse, go to a doctor.” Don’t wait because otherwise things may only get worse.
Punitive Psychiatry Returning with a Vengeance in Putin’s Russia
Staunton, VA, January 24, 2016 —  Ramzan Kadyrov’s call for incarcerating members of the Russian opposition in psychiatric prisons much as the Soviets did has attracted widespread attention. But what makes the Chechen leader’s words even more worrisome is that officials elsewhere are already using psychiatry against their opponents.

Today, the Kasparov.ru portal, drawing on a report by RBC-Tyumen, says that officials in the Khanty-Mansiisk Autonomous District are working to put critics of the authorities in psychiatric prisons much as Brezhnev-era officials did.
Recently, the Tyumen outlet reported, officials in the city of Kogalyma, angered by complaints by a Russian woman about corruption in communal services, forcibly broke into her apartment, electro-shocked her husband who tried to protect her, and carried the woman away “on an invented pretext” to a psychiatric dispensary 250 kilometers away.
The doctors who examined her concluded that there were no reasons to hospitalize her, but, the Kasparov.ru report says, “the bureaucrats are continuing their efforts to send [the woman] to a psychiatric facility and she has again been sent for a new forced examination” of her condition.
Such cases are “increasing in number daily,” Kasparov.ru reports. Another resident of Yugorsk was sent to psychiatrists for possible incarceration in a hospital after publishing information about problems with Putin’s health “optimization” campaign that has led to severe hardships in many places.
And a former school teacher there after being dismissed from her job for reporting on the way in which employees at her college had illegally pocketed money for work they didn’t do was subsequently sent for psychiatric examination as well.
A month ago, Kasparov.ru reported that in Chelyabinsk Region, young men who had medical certificates exempting them from military service were sent to psychiatric dispensaries as well, with the officials involved threatening them with criminal prosecution.

If Putin does not explicitly and publicly overrule Kadyrov on such practices, it is likely that such cases will multiply – and the only defense those officials go after will be the protests of Russian human rights groups and of Western organizations, just as was true when Soviet psychiatrists at the notorious Serbsky Institute diagnosed dissent as “sluggish schizophrenia.”

For background on this issue and efforts by at least some Russian doctors to oppose the revival of this horrific practice, see “Putin Regime Abusing Psychology the Way Soviets Did Psychiatry, Russian Psychologist Says,” April 4, 2015.