TACOMA, Washington — Although the international community considers Russia a great power in the world today, it stills lacks adequate tools and systems to treat mental illness. Much of this need stems from the Soviet-era policies. Mental health in Russia needs much development in order to prioritize the wellbeing of the people in the country.
5 Things to Know About Mental Health in Russia
- Historical Effects: The collapse of the Soviet Union created a substantial increase in mental illness in the region as well as many other social issues that are still present today. The former Soviet region experienced higher rates of mental illness and suicide as well as socio-economic inequalities, HIV incidences, alcohol and tobacco-related diseases and an overall decline in life expectancy. Although the collapse of the Soviet Union happened decades ago, the resulting problems still have an enormous impact.
- Stigma: The stigma from the era is still present in today’s times. Mental illness was seen as a characteristic of capitalist societies and not something that should exist in communist ones. People that displayed signs of mental illness were marked as under-developed or incomplete and faced much discrimination. Generally, these people were institutionalized, removed from their normal lives and their families were urged to abandon them. The mental health institutions were known to abuse the patients and used ineffective and cruel treatment methods.
- Policy Change: To respond to the shortcomings of mental health care, in 1992 the Russian government passed legislation aimed at protecting the rights of people with mental health problems. The law, “On Psychiatric Care and Guarantees of Citizens’ Rights in Its Provision” guaranteed the care and rights of psychiatric patients in these facilities. However, there had been little compliance with the law. By 2001, the government guarantee of “providing for high-quality mental health care” was completed abolished. Because the legislation has no rules or guidelines on failure to comply, no one is held accountable for the lack of adequate mental health care.
- Mental Health Care: Mental health is a very low priority in the health care system of Russia. Mental health care is mainly institution-based. In 2004, the WHO estimated that Russia’s 279 psychiatric hospitals each served a population of more than 25,000, which means individuals do not receive much specific attention. These services are largely funded through the government but are not allocated based on population need, only what is available to give. Further, this system prevents resource transfers or budget-pooling to better fund all sectors of mental health care. This also prevents specialist programs, health services and social protection services from collaborating and interacting with each other. This lack of interaction creates less interdisciplinary health care, hinders learning and training and limits available resources to providers.
- Social Media: The rise of social media has allowed young Russians to fill in the gaps of the state-controlled mental health system. Social media platforms are becoming a way to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness and provide insight on how to address and manage mental health. Run mostly by young Russian women, many Instagram accounts are dedicated to topics such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. These young people are dismantling stigma, making it a norm to get help for mental health struggles and to talk about these struggles. This increase in awareness and education has resulted in more Russians seeking counseling and treatment than ever before.
Overcoming the stigma and legacy of mental health care left from the Soviet Union is still an on-going battle in Russia. However, with young people more willing than ever to use their tools to normalize mental health issues, the systems around mental health in Russia are slowly being transformed.
– Claire Brady