I'm looking for information on people who were unable to work because of schizophrenia or other major mental illness. Does anyone know what happened to them in the USSR?

  • 1
    If they could not work, they would not work...
    – Anixx
    Dec 12, 2015 at 6:41
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    Hospitalized. What is the question?
    – Greg
    Dec 12, 2015 at 17:45
  • 1
    Well I guess I'm looking to compare the hospitalization in the USSR and USA. We have a lot of information on how awful the hospitals were in the US, but I haven't been able to find anything about USSR.
    – Zhelana
    Dec 12, 2015 at 22:39
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    They worked, but always two jobs. Dec 14, 2015 at 10:35
  • 3
    @TylerDurden What you are thinking of is dissociative identity disorder, which is not the same as schizophrenia. Also, poor taste in humor.
    – DevSolar
    Mar 15 at 10:53

4 Answers 4


People who were declared handicapped because of some medical condition received some pension (material help from the state) and other benefits. There were several categories depending on severity of handicap. Those who could and wanted to work also worked. There were co-operatives of handicapped people who could do certain simple kinds of work.

This applied to all sort of illness, including mental illness, including schizophrenia. Those who were considered dangerous were confined to mental hospitals.

Source: I knew several of such people. They were not permanently confined in asylums, just hospitalized for short time of treatment.

EDIT. Another aspect of this matter is that some sane people who criticized the regime were declared insane and confined in mental hospitals against their will. But this is another matter, probably not related to the question. https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg13217951.100-soviet-union-admits-to-abuses-of-psychiatry/

  • 1
    Do you know anything of life in the mental hospitals? What kinds of treatment did they try? Or was it just "lock them up and forget them" ?
    – Zhelana
    Dec 13, 2015 at 3:46
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    I don't know about the life in mental hospitals. But I know that one common treatment was shock therapy (using insulin). People with this decease whom I knew were not treated in hospitals; they lived at home and just visited hospital for the treatment.
    – Alex
    Dec 13, 2015 at 6:15

First thing to consider is that in the Soviet era there were no universal legislative controls on handling of psychiatric patients as Wikipedia article on mental health in Russia states:

During the period of the Soviet Union, it was not considered reasonable to pass special legislative acts protecting the material and legal part of the patients' mental health, thus leaving mental health services mainly inconsistent and unregulated. There were only guidelines of the legal and medical departments that stipulated certain rules of handling the mentally sick and imposing different sanctions on them. Two guidelines on the management of mentally ill persons were published in 1961 and 1971, respectively. These were prepared by lawyer Alexander Rudyakov, who was the legal adviser to the chief psychiatrist of the Moscow Oblast, and read that the grounds for urgent hospitalization was when an ill person was of social danger. Up until 1988, psychiatry in the USSR was not regulated by laws, there were only departmental guidelines, especially those of the USSR Ministry of Health, and one article in the Fundamentals of Health Legislation of the USSR. Vague wordings in the guidelines led to their wide and arbitrary application, which was fully in the hands of psychiatrists. In the absence of legal control over the actions of doctors, departmental regulation of mental health care has contributed to psychiatric abuse...

Treatment in the psychiatric institutions was arbitrary, usually ineffective and there were few guidelines as to when the patient was considered cured.

This also mean that is quite impossible to generalize how the living conditions or treatments were in those institutions as they differ widely without universal guidelines. Generally most prevalent treatments were strong medication, shock therapy and physical restrain when needed.

An interesting titbit is the use of "cage beds" (as I believe they are not used in the west) as a form of less severe restrain. Controversy of their use in Czechia is discussed in this MDAC article (pdf)

History of hospitalization was considered a strong stigma and usually disqualified the person from any kind of skilled work, disregarding the actual state of persons sickness or their ability to work. Fear of institutionalization led many to hide or downplay their syndromes, thus receiving no or inadequate care. Also doctors, knowing the state of mental health institutions, were often reluctant to prescribe hospitalization even for patients who would benefit from such care.

In extreme cases the mental illness diagnosis (or any disability) may have been seen as politically unsavory as..

The Russian Association of Psychiatrists supported the view that mental illness was characteristic of capitalist societies and would eventually disappear under the communist regime. This approach was in line with the notorious statement of a Soviet official at the Moscow Olympics in 1986 who claimed that ‘(t)here are no invalids in the USSR!’, illustrating the prevailing philosophy regarding people with disabilities during the Soviet era...

In extreme cases, problematic patients or patients who didn't show signs of recovery may have been deemed uncurbable and transferred into ordinary prisons under constructed or ambiguous accusations, with no treatment whatsoever.

Apparently starting in 1989 there were western inquiries were made into the state of mental health care in Soviet union. I found this article in the National Library of Medicine (USA) quite informative, but also under it there is exhaustive list of references, including the official US delegation in 1989.


Don't quote me on this, but I think how the mentally ill were treated in the Soviet Union must have been similar to how it was in the western world. There were insane asylums in the USSR, and the treatments would have likely been similar. We don't know whether there was a deinstitutionalization movement in the Soviet Union as there were in North America and Western Europe, but there might be been ( the Soviet Union did have this reputation for being an extremely secretive regime, almost nothing was meant to get through the Iron Curtain). Anyways, it's highly likely that the mentally ill who were otherwise able-bodied were assigned jobs by the central Communist Party, either within the asylum itself, on the grounds, or at some collectivized enterprise.

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    We prefer answers which can be supported by reliable sources. Thank you. Apr 20 at 3:24

While the Soviet Union was communist, it was far from progressive in the ways it treated the less fortunate. Documents leaked from the USSR before the country's collapse report that psychiatry was weaponized by the Soviet government. They used it for silencing dissenters, claiming that if someone didn't like Marxist-Leninism, that they must be mentally ill, thus if a dissident didn't end up shot or in a gulag, they were likely to end up immured in a Looney bin.

Not to mention, it was kind of illegal to not have a job in the Soviet Union.

  • "they were likely" - sources needed for this. Random thoughts that occurred to you is not evidence of anything.
    – cmw
    Mar 20 at 13:03

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