The British Journal of Psychiatry
Soviet special psychiatric hospitals. Where the system was criminal and the inmates were sane.
N Adler, S Gluzman


The subversion of psychiatric intervention for political purposes in the USSR during the 1970s and 1980s resulted in both intra-psychic and subsequent adaptational dysfunction in those dissidents who physically survived it. Incarceration in special psychiatric hospitals subjected the inmates to a sense of helplessness under the control of a malevolent power, futility, despair, danger from close and contentious contact with hardened criminals and the violently insane, overdosage with mind-altering and body-distorting neuroleptic drugs, and a Kafkaesque ambiguity concerning the specific terms of instutionalisation. Discharge did not bring release from continued threats and the eroded social networks to which the inmates returned subjected them to a new set of stressors. While some families remained intact and provided necessary support during the re-entry period, many families had been destroyed either by the circumstances of the family member's incarceration or by the length of the victim's stay in the psychiatric hospital. Wives left, people died, friends deserted, jobs evaporated, and often there was not even a home to accept them. Social agencies were either hostile or indifferent to their plight. Many felt like they had been thrown overboard from a prison ship without a life preserver. It was the proverbial transition from the frying pan into the fire.