I got the “false dichotomy” stink eye reading this month’s Newsweek: Mental Breakdown, which predicts good old fashioned gallows humor just might have to make a comeback in Russia, ha ha ha, since
over the past year at least 10 journalists, political activists or critics of local authorities have been wrongfully hospitalized in mental hospitals. And though forcible psychiatric treatment for political reasons is still rare, the Independent Psychiatric Association, a Moscow watchdog, says Russia’s mental hospitals are routinely used by unscrupulous relatives and criminals to remove inconvenient family members…
Shame on those commies! That could never happen here. Oh but it does, but it’s not the same thing. This is America, we don’t do shit for political reasons. We confine individuals in the mental hospital when there’s something wrong with the individual, full stop.
Individualism, our American credo, gives us this fundamental disconnection between politics and behavior. They do not meet. You break that rule at your own filthy-stinking-pinko-hippie-femanazi peril.
And since we don’t have politics in America what we do is throw people in the psych ward for creative writing, for falling off their medication, because they lack insight, because they distrust NAMI, are paranoid about family lock-em-up motivations, are misinformed about electroshock, and every other intervention we frame as treatment, none of which, including the behaviors that spawned the treatment are to be interpreted as a form of political protest. Ever.
Back to the USSR:
…increasingly, it is critics of authority who find themselves sent off to state hospitals. Yuri Savenko, head of the Independent Psychiatric Association, says he hears of new political cases almost every day. The most high-profile thus far involves Larisa Arap, a 48-year-old journalist in Apatity, near Murmansk, who had given an interview to a local newspaper in June that was highly critical of the region’s state psychiatric hospitals.
Arap was also an activist with the local branch of United Civil Front, a Kremlin opposition movement. In early July, she went to the hospital for a routine check-up required by law to renew her driving license. But, as she recalls, someone in the hospital called the police, and by evening, she had been committed to a psychiatric hospital, stripped of her clothes, tied to a bed and sedated.
“Doctors told me that I would experience all the practices I had complained about in the papers,” Arap told NEWSWEEK while still in the hospital. “They also told me that I was locked up for life.”
The hospital’s head doctor, Yevgeny Zenin, told NEWSWEEK, “We do not care what independent commissions of psychiatrists, or the United Nations, or even aliens tell us. Once we decide to keep a patient here, we will. The courts will always listen to us and no one else.”
Thank god we don’t live in Russia! Our dissidents are free! Free to get a Ph.D and teach at elitist universities, why schizophrenics don’t take that route is a mystery to me.
Outside the ivory tower there is no avenue for legitimate protest in this country, so how do people in extremis revolt? How can people communicate when what they have to express is forbidden, and the words needed to formulate disagreeable concepts have been conditioned out of them from birth, when they have no framework to organize their thoughts and feelings? Read the 18th century slave narratives. See how oppressed people invent what their culture doesn’t understand or permit.
Madness is nothing if not inventive, and for some it is preferable. It’s clear to me that psychosis sends a message, which is not to say it is contrived or manipulative, but it is an expression, which is of course denied as expression, much less a manifestation of what became of someone who couldn’t stomach it, and has no other available method to signify refusal. Oh but madness is about suffering, yes, unimaginable suffering, preferable to the suffering denied in what goes by the name of sanity in America.
Too much thinking, let the healing begin! An end to suffering, who can argue with that?
Me. Coercive treatments are never about healing troubled people, or there would be no need to force compliance. The above mental health interventions are intended to disrupt behaviors that are framed as meaningless, irrational, inappropriate and inscrutable.
The cure for protest is the same the world over — you regain your freedom when you demonstrate that you’ve changed your beliefs.
Andrey Novikov, a journalist with a newspaper in Rybinsk, in central Russia, was jailed earlier this year on charges of “extremism” after publicly criticizing Vladimir Putin’s policies in Chechnya. In February, Novikov was sent for involuntary psychiatric treatment for what his doctors say in court papers would be “as long as it takes to have his mental health fully restored.”
Another journalist, Pavel Kuznetsov, was declared “mentally unsound” in February after criticizing local authorities’ inefficiency in the newspaper.
Olga Popova, a 34-year-old engineer, landed in Moscow’s Mental Hospital Number 13 after seeing Duma Deputy Svetlana Savitskaya in June to complain about alleged abuses at Moscow’s Serbsky Institute of Social and Forensic Psychiatry. Savitskaya told NEWSWEEK she believed her visitor to be “insane.”
So, some Russians are being thrown in psych wards for criticizing the government, others by unscrupulous family members, and still others for criticizing mental hospitals. Sound familiar? Not to Newsweek:
…For old dissidents like Vladimir Bukovsky, who was forcibly committed to a psychiatric clinic in the 1960s, these stories bring back chilling memories. “Once you are admitted to a mental hospital,” he says, “any attempt you make to criticize the system or treatment will be evaluated as a sign or even proof of insanity.” In modern Russia, it seems, as in the Soviet Union, you’d almost have to be mad to speak out.
Crazy old Russia, at it again, violating the rights of her recalcitrant citizens. If that ever happens here a nice man named Torrey will greet them as liberators with flowers and candy.