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Mental illness in St. Petersburg



Evgeniya Altfeld, reporter: “Every resident of St. Petersburg can encounter a mentally ill person – a neighbor, for instance. My family had to move from this building and sell the beloved apartment – because a completely insane person resides here on the 5th floor, and he throws his defecations wrapped in plastic bags at other residents. Even a zoo store where i used to buy cat food had to relocate – because those bombs fell on its porch”

This entrance is called “a bad one” by the locals. A lonely woman, a cat lover, makes the residents’ lives worse. Intolerable smell, scaring children and anonymous accusations.

Oleg Yarovoy: “There were cases when my kid was going up the stairs and heard explicit words about his parents. The worst thing is that we cannot resolve this legally. We’ve turned to prosecutor’s office, police, administration – to no avail”

A property owner has the right to not open the door to anyone. And only a court order can force a person into a psychiatric evaluation. That’s how the Russian law works”

Nataliya: “There’s nothing that can be done about those yet – as long as there’s no actual danger to themselves and others. If a person refuses to get psychiatric help, then a doctor has no right to make contact with that person. And what if that person simply has a bad temper? It doesn’t mean mental illness. And psychiatric treatment cannot be applied. It’s not humane and unjust”.

Windows without handles, curtains instead of doors. No window bars and atmosphere of a sanatorium. People from all over the country come to Bekhtereve Institute for treatment. The principles of psychiatric help were formed in St. Petersburg. A secret councilor and general of the Tsar Army’s medical service Vladimir Bekhterev laid the foundations of humane approach to treating the mentally ill. Those which adhered to even nowadays. The punitive Soviet psychiatry is regarded as a nightmare best left forgotten. By both doctors and patients.

Mad, genius, weirdo. In all times people have been trying to grasp this fine line. Famous St. Petersburg man Kolya Vasin, creator of “The Beatles” museum recently put on his last show – jumping out of the third floor window of a mall. His suicide note said “it’s impossible to live in a country where no one supports the Temple of John Lennon”.

Urban madmen as part of culture and the city life became the main characters for Anastasiya Nilskaya’s paintings. Elderly women, a homeless woman – almost like a reincarnation of Kseniya Peterburgskaya – an angry man in a pastry store. And a run-down meat store. In such a city as St. Petersburg even buildings can be mad.

Around 70% of St. Petersburg’s residents suffer from some form of psychiatric disorders. Some are just weird, others are plain dangerous. Like the man who recently opened fire at a children’s playground, the infamous “Kupchino ripper” – who killed her friend at the age of 70 – or Leningrad’s cannibal Ilshat Kuzikov. He went through treatment several times – and every time walked free.

There’s a designated law about psychiatry in Russia, but, according to lawyers, it lacks one important clause – about obligatory checks.

Madmen –as if stepping out from Dostoyevsky’s books – have been roaming the city’s streets for years. Passers-by are scared of them, neighbors hate them. And only an artist would paint a picture of them – the eyes which are actually begging for help.