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18 May, 2009 07:01

No locks or drugs: alternative treatment for mentally ill

The treatment of mentally disabled people in Russia has traditionally been carried out by the government, but private institutions offer alternative forms that that might turn out to be way more effective and humane.

A world apart.

The village Svetlana in the Leningrad region offers hard work as an alternative to more conventional forms of treatment. Founded almost twenty years ago by an international charity, it helps people with mental disabilities all over the world.

The patients here have different types of mental disorders, but here nobody takes medicine and they are all treated as special. Instead, in Svetlana, they are given work and responsibility. Farming, helping to cook and collecting wool is all on their to-do list.

Sergey, 32, is one of the eighteen people who were sent to Svetlana village to get help. He loves to take care of cows and has been doing it for most of his adult life. Sergey enjoys good company and being out in the country.

Some specialists think that being out in the open air, making real friends and a truly human approach can be more affective than crowded clinics and drugs.

Vyacheslav Shuvayev is a doctor and has been visiting the village for a couple of years. He says the methods used here can go way beyond traditional medicine.

“I've never seen anything so effective! Unlike in clinics, the conditions here are as close to real life as possible,” he said. “This village helps even in those cases when traditional medicine fails.”

Another volunteer in the village is Anatoly. He has sailed all over the globe making maps of the ocean floor, but here he found a new talent – baking.

“I usually work with five helpers every day. We make bread, buns and patty-cakes,” he said. “I can tell you with great pleasure that our products are a real success!”

Svetlana came as an innovation for Russia. Now, there are half a dozen similar villages in the country with three more being built. Volunteers from Britain, Germany, Norway and Switzerland make this village truly international.

“It is very interesting,” said one of the volunteers. “You kind of have to get used to the way they're living, but when you get to know what happens and how it works – it is just really amazing!”

For some specialists, the effectiveness of villages like Svetlana is yet to be proved, but others are adamant that they have a place in Russia.