Voyeuristic video invades world of mentally ill

A scandalous cell-phone video involving mentally-ill patients has laid bare long-standing flaws in Russia’s psychiatric institutions. Low wages and lack of reforms are blamed for problems in the sector, but the way forward is far from clear.

Scenes of psychiatric patients kissing and fighting with each other in a mental health facility in Siberia shot by a hospital employee have sparked outrage among the public.

Of course it's horrible. What on earth was he thinking? Those people are ill, they are people with disabilities. How could someone abuse them like this?” asks local resident Lyudmila Eremeeva.

An internal investigation found ward attendant Vladimir Bukharov was the man behind the camera.

He has been dismissed from his position, but insists he did not force the patients to take part. Nevertheless, questions have been raised regarding the ethics of filming mentally ill people in this way.

They were kissing, and I turned on the camera and captured it. I wanted to delete the footage, but I guess I forgot. And how the media got hold of the footage is a mystery to me,” Bukharov claimed.

Others have leapt to the defense of Bukharov, saying people have been too quick to point the finger of blame.

You don't see the attendant provoking or forcing the patients to do all those things. The footage merely features patients of the ward who are behaving this way all by themselves, probably because of their mental disorders,” Andrey Kuznetsov, head of Psychiatric Hospital No. 6, believes.

Ward attendants in psychiatric hospitals like this one are not paid very well. In Russia’s rural areas, wages can be as low as US$100 per month.

Yury Savenko is Russia's representative at the World Psychiatric Association, with over 50 years of experience in the sector. He believes that low wages can draw the wrong people to work in hospitals.

It's all a matter of how much you pay the orderlies. Their salaries are incredibly low. So you can figure out for yourself what kind of people take that job. In some cases they are shady individuals who seek to gratify their base instincts or to make money off the patients.”

Attempts to put right the wrongs in mental health care are underway. However, experts in the field believe that the stigma still attached to mental illness means that facilities often do not get the funds they need.

Reform has been on and off since the late nineties. People make huge plans, and it seems like the government allocates substantial funds, but what comes out of it is zilch, a total washout. Much of it is because psychiatry has always been a highly controversial issue,” Savenko concludes.

The case of Vladimir Bukharov is currently in the hands of law enforcement officials. They are trying to determine if there is enough evidence to press ahead with criminal proceedings. Should Bukharov be charged with abusing those in his care, he could face up to 3 months in jail.