The Psychiatric Reprisal
The Psychiatric Reprisal
What it is
This was a practice first identified as being used in the former Soviet Union. Targets of this practice were misdiagnosed as mentally ill, many were placed in state run psychiatric facilities.
Thousands upon thousands of individuals were targeted and systemically eliminated this way before the practice was brought to light and drew international attention.
The primary targets of this practice were dissidents, activists, those who tried to exercise their rights, or who wrote or published items that the state did not approve of. Those practicing freedom of religion. Also those who practiced minority or ethnic rights.
The practice was brought to the attention of the United Nations in 1969, and brought some condemnation in 1974, but this did little to change what was happening. The practice continued. It was only in 1991 when change was happening on the world stage, that the issue was again examined in more depth and the practice seems to have diminished.
Russia is not the only country to have used this practice. The practice was also heavily used in China as well. They also used this as a way of dealing with political dissidence.
What was interesting about the research into this practice is the idea that a whole field of professionals can become corrupted and misguided in their views. Believing that any form of dissidence is a mental illness.
She could not sleep that night, and became increasingly worried during subsequent months as more instructions from Moscow appeared on her desk. They were unusual, and what was worse, they confirmed her fears of that very first night: The author, Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, was not normal. Actually, he was ill, clearly suffering from what was widely known in Soviet psychiatry as “sluggish schizophrenia.” And indeed, Gorbachev had all the symptoms: struggle for the truth, perseverance, reformist ideas, and willingness to go against the grain. My interlocutor continued to believe in her diagnosis until the Soviet Union collapsed and the windows to the world were opened wide. Only then did she realize that her concept of mental illness, shared by virtually all the approxi-mately 45,000 Soviet psychiatrists, was what was abnormal and that Gorbachev had been normal all along.
What is frightening is the realization of how indoctrinated these health professionals were. That they so implicitly believed the propaganda of what the state taught them to, and were willing to turn this indoctrination on innocent citizens. Just like some of the Nazi’s in Germany, many were following what they had been told or taught to do.
The overwhelming multitude of Soviet psychiatrists either had never participated in the political abuse of psychiatry, had tried to avoid being trapped by authorities into taking part, or had no idea that they were hospitalizing people who according to international standards were in perfect mental health—if such a thing exists. They followed thee criteria that they had been taught by a monopolized psychiatric educational system that was dominated by the Moscow School headed by Professor Snezhnevsky. They had been cut off from international psychiatry and had no knowledge of what their colleagues in the outside, “bourgeois” world believed. If any information trickled through, it was immediately seen as an offspring of degenerated bourgeois societies.
Many times we like to view these individuals as evil. Denizens of the state who cruelly and unconscionably tortured and falsely inprisioned innocent citizens, but what history is repeatedly showing time and again is that things are often not the cut and dried. These psychiatrist in many cases apparently did not realise the evil that they were doing. They in many cases were following a criteria, a set of standards laid out for them, by a governing body, and anyone who fell into specific criterias, were automatically labelled mentally ill.
They were part of a society in which private initiative, independent thinking, and going against the grain were, at the least, considered dangerous and were often branded criminal. They were part of a society that was taught that anybody who was different, both in thought and in appearance, was “not normal” and thereby almost inherently was “antisocial” and “antisocialist.” When combined with the theories of “sluggish schizophrenia,” this training made it very easy to convince rankand-file psychiatrists, who had only a Soviet education and no access to world psychiatry, that any person who went against the Communist Party and was willing to risk the happiness of both his family and himself had to be mentally ill.
These professional had a limited lens by which to judge, and so they went with what they had been taught, they followed the guidelines without question, and placed people into categories based on predetermined criterias. Could the same pattern be re-emerging in other societies? Could these same patterns be happening in democratic countries? Could health professionals also be following a set of criteria, and misdiagnosing perfectly healthy individuals as mentally unwell, schizophrenic, without having ever met them face to face, based solely on predetermined criteria?
Dissidents were held for observation in the fourth (“political”) department, and in most cases mental illness was the eventual diagnosis—almost invariably accompanied by a diagnosis of “sluggish schizophrenia.” When the investigative commission reviewed the files, the retired psychiatrist recognized many names under the diagnoses: former colleagues, sometimes friends, known to her as good professionals. The diagnoses were composed as though she had written them herself: the same style, the same terminology, and probably the same conclusions. Yet when the commission subsequently examined the 60 former victims in person, she was shocked, devastated.
What is really scary is how these diagnosis were handed out and delivered. By her own admission this psychiatrist would likely have put many of these individuals away, yet in person they still remained healthy fully functioning individuals, even after years of surviving the Soviet hell that they were put through.
As I said earlier, after the fall of the Soviet regime we found that the truth about Soviet psychiatry was even more horrific than we had imagined. The political abuse of psychiatry was only the tip of the iceberg. The Soviet regime had ostracized any person who was not productive, who did not fulfill the image of the healthy socialist person laboring for the common good—the radiant communist future.
Could these same criteria be slowly getting implemented in many democratic societies? Could this same agenda be making it’s way to the west? Will the citizens of the western world soon experience what their counter parts in the former Soviet Union did? A systemic abuse of power that targets 1 in 3 political prisoners?. A practice that touched possibly millions of innocent lives?
Approximately one in three political prisoners were held in psychiatric hospitals rather than in camps and prisons. Yet, the thousands of victims of these political abuses form only the tip of the iceberg of millions of Soviet citizens who fell victim to totalitarian Soviet psychiatry.
The American Psychiatric Association is said to be writing it’s soon to be updated version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual and the criteria for mental illness might surprise some individuals.