De-pathologising dissent: international campaigns against psychiatric abuse in the Soviet Union and the crisis of the discipline in the West, 1953-1991


  • Dr Hannah Proctor

    University of Strathclyde, United Kingdom

Project summary

In the mid-1960s stories of dissidents who had been diagnosed with the mental illness 'sluggish schizophrenia' and involuntarily committed to mental hospitals began to circulate in Soviet underground publications. The Russian word for dissident ' inakomyslie ' literally means one who thinks differently. In the post-Stalin era expressions of 'thinking differently' were used by psychiatrists as evidence of insanity. When stories of these practices reached the West they prompted outrage and many in the medical community joined campaigns against the political abuse of psychiatry in the USSR. They asked whether similar practices were happening in other state socialist countries, in right-wing dictatorships or in Western democracies, and, if so, how they could be identified and stopped. This project will explore the significance of these campaigns for psychiatry beyond the USSR, exploring anxieties and ambiguities they reveal about psychiatric authority, institutionalisation, dissent, political ideology, and medical authority in the Cold War.