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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mental Hospitals Open to Abuse, Say Doctors

Gone are the days when mental hospitals were used as prisons for dissidents, but psychiatrists say the possibility of abuses in their profession still exists and the rights of mentally ill people are not adequately protected. According to Vladimir Batayev, a senior expert for the Independent Psychiatric Association, 15 percent of all people could be described as border cases, whom psychiatrists could just as soon declare sick as healthy. "Psychiatry is not to blame for being such a convenient instrument to discredit people," said Moscow's chief psychiatrist, Vladimir Kozyrev. "When someone at work ... digs too deep, it's easy to make him out as a mental case." "It's amazing that most psychiatrists are still holding out, not letting people make a free-for-all of their profession," he said. Batayev said misuse of psychiatric hospitals has decreased sharply since Russia's first law on psychiatric aid was adopted in 1993. The law bans the internment of a non-violent patient without his or her own consent or that of his or her guardian. However, Batayev said, the law is not clear on how a psychiatrist can be punished for abusing his position. At the end of last year, Batayev said, a doctor diagnosed a young couple as suffering from acute psychosis and ordered police to take them into a hospital. A check-up in the hospital two days later showed the couple were in perfect health and they were released immediately. The doctor authorized the internment at the request of the woman's father, who wanted get hold of the flat occupied by the couple, Batayev said. "It was a crime, but the scum got off with a verbal reprimand from his boss." Psychiatric abuse has lost most of its sinister aspect since the end of communism, but the era of the market has seen it adopt new forms. "The political persecution cases were definitely more spectacular than a grandmother stuck into a mental hospital by her relatives to get their hands on her room," Kozyrev said. According to Kozyrev, 150,000 people in Moscow, or about 1 percent of the population, suffer from serious disorders and are currently under active psychiatric observation. These people are often abandoned or abused by relatives and are easy prey to the capital's notorious apartment swindlers, he said. Florentsia Ageyeva, a lawyer with the Moscow Bar Association, said that a deal made by a mental patient to sell or give away his apartment should be immediately annulled under the existing law unless the patient received another apartment in exchange. "Mental patients are protected by the state," she said. "Anyone trying to make them even more unhappy than they already are will not get away with it." But it remained unclear who would report such cases to the authorities. While an order by Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, signed last month, compels psychiatric institutions to inform the housing authorities once a month about every person incapable, by reason of illness, of making deals, the actual procedure is still being worked out, Ageyeva said. "Most of the cases when an apartment is illegally purchased involve mental patients or alcoholics," said Alexei Gavrikov, a Moscow police detective dealing with housing fraud. "With those people it's hard to prove anything."