What does the word «ИНТЕРНАТ» mean – this word is a popularly known short name of Psycho- neurological boarding house. “INTERNATS” is a permanent residence for people with mental disabilities It means that they spend 15-20 years and more there.
Historically the first house for mentally and physically disabled people in Russia was established at the end of World War II, it was house for shell‐shocked and disabled soldiers. At the same time, orphanages for children were established for children who lost their parents in World War II. In the modern time a lot of mentally disabled children are socially orphaned since their parents either lost parental rights or chose to leave their child upon giving birth.
According to the official statistics of 2013, there are more than 1354 mental houses for adults in Russia and more than 150 000 people live there. Estimated over 50 000 patients of asylums, called “Internat” in Russia, come from orphanages for mentally disabled children. After reaching the age of 18 they must have a psychiatric re-examination and if the conclusion is that the examinee is able to provide for themselves, they have to be let free and be provided with accommodation from the government; but in reality the re‐examination is absent. The intellectual disability of persons who arrived from orphanage for mentally disabled children is in fact often associated with educational neglect, the lack of proper training and education and the lack of rehabilitation programs. This is very close to phenomenon called ‘over-diagnosing’ that appeared in Soviet psychiatry and was wide spread. About 70% patients of asylums are just persons with reduced intelligence and we can only be hypothesizing about how many of them have been over‐diagnosed.
I work on this subject because this issue has very limited visual coverage due to restriction of access from outside. This year I got a custodian over my mentally ill brother, and trying to understand possibilities for his future life I got into intricacies of the system that worry and scare me.
Limited interior space, overcrowding, forced labor, poverty due to corruption, lack of privacy due to the sexual division of the institutions and the prohibition of expression of patients sexuality is a small list of how to describe the life in an asylum, which is really difficult to express in a visual story just as a lot of other “hidden” problems of Russia. Many levels of the system are involved into corruption schemes; and theft of money or hereditary houses of patients, which they are entitled to use in case of their release, are common. So it is to nobody’s profit if patients are released.
The system of mental institutions prescribes that people who live there and mostly don’t have relatives cannot go outside; their lives and contacts are controlled by administration of the asylum. The patients often use the term “at liberty” to describe the life outside of the institution. People forgotten by God and society live there. I think there are a lot of metaphorical things about Russia in the history of such places and everything happening around them.
© Anastasia Rudenko – Text and images