Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Half of Russian Draftees Now Suffer Psychological Problems

Paul Goble

Vienna, June 4 – Approximately 50 percent of the men drafted into the Russian military this year suffer from serious psychological or medical problems, yet another indication of the impact of Russia’s demographic decline on a key institution and a development that is prompting the military to set up a network of special psychological service centers.
As the number of 18-year-olds has declined over the past decade, the Russian military has had to take in many people, including those with criminal records, alcohol and drug dependencies, and psychological problems, that its medical screening boards would have rejected in earlier times.
On the one hand, that means that many of the draftees are discharged before they complete their required term of service – 45 percent of those who are discharged early are released for psychological reasons -- and that those who don’t create problems for commanders, their fellow soldiers, and the civilian population around the places where they serve.
These increasingly serious problems, which show no sign of diminishing anytime soon, Vladislav Shamrey, the senior psychiatrist at the St. Petersburg Military Medical Academy, told the New Region news agency today, are forcing the military to set up psychological rehabilitation centers and psychiatric health groups (
The portrait of these soldiers that Shamrey offered is truly disturbing. Most of them have never worked or studied anywhere, “a significant portion of Russian soldiers were convicted of crimes and suffer from alcohol dependency,” and, even among those who are otherwise healthy, 75 percent “do not have minimal general educational knowledge.”
The draftees “do not read books, and they do not even remember the date of birth of their parents,” Shamrey said at an all-Russian conference of psychiatrists in Yekaterinburg. And consequently, “they do not possess the most minimal family and ethical norms” that used to be typical of the draft-age population.
As a result of this change, he said, an increasing number of Russian commanders support the introduction of “immediate psychiatric intervention” so as to catch problems early. The Baltic Fleet has created centers of psychological rehabilitation and psychiatric health groups already, and other commands are doing the same.
Shamrey argued that the Russian government should create medical passports that would include the psychological and physical health of young people from school entrance until draft age and that the military should create an all-service register of psychological data on those who have served.
Soldiers, of course, are not the only Russians suffering from psychological problems. Today’s Novyye izvestiya reported that “the overwhelming majority of Russians are [now] experiencing the so-called big city neurosis,” the stresses arising from the onset of capitalism and the increasing urbanization of the population (
Forty percent of Russians now experience stress, the SuperJob Research Center told the paper, with most of that arising from problems on the job or within the family. But both that center and the broader expert community, Novyye izvestiya’s Anna Semenova says, argue that there are several “new forms” of stress characteristic of post-Soviet urban life.
“Ever more frequently is encountered the so-called big city neurosis,” psychologist Mariya Styskina told the paper, a syndrome reflected the stresses drivers of personal cars and passengers on public transport often feel and the isolation and even boredom many urban residents experience.
Another psychologist, Elena Dobrobabenko, said that “the chief stress-forming factor is when someone is involved in work only for the money.” In her view, “the most nerve-wracking profession is that of a realtor.” Also especially stressful, she said, is work in the public relations field.
But a third psychologist suggested that stress was related to age, with those in their 30s and 40s the “most ‘stressed” group of Russians. That is because, Anna Kartashova said, people in those age groups “are taking the decisions which have the most radical influence on their lives and any errors [at that time] can be most fatal.”
Not surprisingly, all the psychologists agreed on how to overcome stress: On the one hand, they suggested, don’t get dragged into situations which don’t concern you. And on the other, accept that in Moscow, trials of various kinds are inevitable, “just like rain and snow in our climatic conditions.”

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