One of the greatest areas of neglect in Russia is care for the mentally ill. Vast psychiatric hospital complexes exist in all large Russian cities, but low salaries compared to the private sector and disintegrating state budgets have meant a gradual run down of services. But the feed of patients to mental hospitals from state social services is not abating, the virtual world-wide virtual epidemic of depression has not bypassed Russia.
In Russia, the stigma of being a mentally ill person means that he or she can easily fall into the trap of self-denigration. There is probably nothing worse for a young person to be called, or call him or herself a âpsychoâ in todayâs contemporary Russian society. The idea of joining a voluntary group which helps out at hospitals for the mentally ill, is sadly lacking here, perhaps because we urbanites are too busy, perhaps because this a problem we would rather not think about.
Enter the charity âDushaâ meaning soul in Russia. This charity which is only one year old is overworked. âDushaâ primarily provides training for mentally ill patients inside of Moscow (psychiatric) region hospital #1. Training in communication, memory development and social skills are provided by clinical psychologists, which the charity provides. People who are truly interested in helping people, and regard their work as more of mission than a vocation, who donât look down on people with mental illness, are extremely rare and difficult to find, said âDushaâsâ coordinator Ekaterina Pogodina.
Ekaterina explained âDushaâsâ overall goal: âMostly we work with people who have some kind of schizophrenia. A person may have difficulty in communication, and not be able to function within society, so helping people communicate is incredibly important both for children and for adults. For children the situation is really serious, because if this sort of thing occurs in childhood the consequences can be more serious than with an adult, who can probably be treated so that he or she can resume a normal life. With a child, such problems can spread to encompass more parts of the personâs persona, because they are younger.â
âWe also try and help people with cognitive disturbances, by which we mean impediment of memory function, attention span and thought processes. If somebodyâs ability to pay attention is disturbed, he will have difficulty in concentrating on a conversation, or studying for example.
âWe run leisure programmes: English lessons for children and Geography lectures. We try to make lessons fun, so that children want to participate. Patients, especially children seem to learn better when their lessons take the form of games. Other games are to do with conflicting situations, where the patient is confronted with a dilemma and has to make a decision, sometimes involving making a compromise.
âOf course the main function of a mental hospital is medical and psychological cure but there is a place for us in treatment procedures. All over the world there are voluntary, semi-commercial and commercial organisations which exist to help people on their way to recovery. We are trying to fill a gap.â
On the subject of what exact help Dusha needs now, Katya explained: âthe number one problem is finding professional psychologists and volunteers who are willing to help out, and finding the money to remunerate them. We are only able to afford one professional for three groups, which strongly limits what we can do.
âThe number two problem is funding the means for our various programmes. For example, we now want to move into providing computerised training sessions because we can reach a lot more people that way. Programmes which provide individualised training and analysis in the cognitive sphere already exist, but we cannot afford to buy the computers.â
Results of âDushaâsâ work cannot easily be quantified. Psychologist Larissa Kapitinova who currently works with some of the charityâs groups mentioned: âWe have noticed that after going through our courses, patients who have been isolated from other people start to talk to each other and make friends with each other.â Ilya Kravchenko , one of the staff doctors in the childrenâs department at Moscow region hospital #1 mentioned: âThe children like the classes, the children themselves want to be involved. Sometimes itâs hard to determine precisely what is giving the positive effect, the medicines or the psychology classes, but effect of classes is obvious.â
One of âDushaâsâ new projects involves trying to sell patientsâ artwork. Katya explained: âWe have quite a lot of patients who are unable to work for one reason or another, or if they can find work it is very badly paid. Some of them are pretty talented artists. It would be wonderful if their paintings could find their way onto the walls of offices, shops, anywhere where a lot of people go, so that people could look and buy. The authors of these works could enjoy a supplementary income, which would mean a huge amount for them, and at the same time, people would also be provided with the opportunity to make a donation to our foundation.â
If you would like to help âDusha,â please contact: Hugh Mc Enaney, Secretary of the Irish Business Club viaÂ www.moscowirishclub.ru/,
or âDushaâ direct.
please write to [email protected]