A panel of physicians said Tuesday that Soviet psychiatrists are treating fewer patients under new laws to guard against abuses in institutions long accused of being used to hold dissidents against their will.
The Soviet doctors, addressing a news conference, also said they are doing their utmost to cooperate with a team of U.S. doctors here to assess the current state of Soviet psychiatry.
The U.S. team, which arrived last weekend, says it has been granted access to any patients or institutions it wishes to visit during an unprecedented two-week mission.
Soviet laws on psychiatry underwent sweeping changes last year in response to allegations that institutions were being used to incarcerate dissidents.
The Soviet panel said there were about 5.5 million mental patients throughout the Soviet Union, most of them suffering neurotic disorders. Caseloads, they said, are down by about 30%.
“We want enforced treatment reduced to a minimum,” said Vladimir Tikhonenko, chief Moscow psychiatrist, referring to cases where incarceration is imposed because of violations of the law.
“Optional (voluntary) treatment must be increased. People must not be afraid of psychiatrists. We need a situation where anyone can apply if he needs treatment and that means having to undergo serious restructuring.”
Vladimir Yegorov, head of the psychiatric and addiction section of the Soviet Health Ministry, said doctors are trying to reduce the number of people on mental health registers.
“We cannot expect change overnight,” he said. “Our aim is to confine required treatment to those who are a threat to themselves or to those around them.”
Control of special hospitals was transferred last year to the Health Ministry from the Interior Ministry and 2 million people were struck off mental patient registers. Rulings were issued to protect citizens against abuse and malpractices.