STRASBOURG – On a cold winter day in 2004, a young Russian named Pavel Shtukaturov discovered that a judge had stripped him of the right to speak for himself. Deprived of legal capacity, he was prohibited from acting independently, or at all, in most areas of life. He was no longer able to work, travel, choose his place of residence, buy or sell property, or even marry.
The judge took away these rights without even informing him – indeed, Pavel only found out a year later. When he sought a lawyer to defend his rights, his mother, who had been made his legal guardian, had him locked up in a psychiatric hospital for seven months. This Kafkaesque turn of events was possible because Pavel has mental health issues in a system that refuses to protect his rights.
In Russia, roughly 125,000 people with mental disabilities are confined to institutions – for life. There are another 165,000 beds in psychiatric hospitals, with some 650,000 hospitalizations per year. But these statistics don’t tell the real story. Only rarely do stories like Shtukaturov’s get out. It is astonishing how little is known about the treatment of people with mental health problems in Russia.
There are no independent inspectorates monitoring these hospitals to protect patients’ rights, and there are no advocacy services on behalf of people with mental disabilities. Moreover, the minds of many hospital directors are as firmly closed as the institutions themselves.