Post-Soviet stress crowds psychological centres

The stress of post-Soviet social changes ranging from work redundancies to rebellious children is forcing thousands of people to seek psychological help from a unique network of centres in Moscow.

“We’re expanding and it’s always full,” said Valery Shatilo, deputy director of the Moscow Psychological Help Service.

The service, which provides free consultation for Muscovites outside a social services system often not accessible to all, currently includes five centres and plans to expand.

“We no longer live in a sheltered world,” Shatilo continued.

People who grew up in Soviet times, the psychologist said, can no longer rely on state help or the support of a close-knit network of friends for their psychological problems.

“These people feel the world has been turned upside down, the certainties they depended on have disappeared, the habit of living in a paternalistic atmosphere is gone,” Shatilo said.

Shatilo and his team of 86 psychologists provide a first port-of-call for Muscovites and over 15 000 people have come through the service’s doors since the first facility was set up in October 2003.

The service is fully funded by Moscow authorities to the tune of $1,3-million per year and advertises on the Russian capital’s subway system.

The first centre and headquarters of the network is a former nursery school in south-west Moscow with state-of-the-art equipment and clean, comfortable consultation rooms.

Everyone is welcome to the two-hour consultations but there is a long waiting list and access to the psychologists is by appointment only.

The October 2002 Dubrovka theatre siege in Moscow in which 130 people died encouraged local government to set up the service, director Antonina Lyashenko said.

“It certainly pushed authorities to invest in this project,” she said.

The service, which also sends people to the scenes of fires and bomb attacks, assisted several former hostages and victims’ relatives after the Beslan school hostage crisis of September 2004.

Moscow has 300 public and private facilities with psychologists but many people cannot afford the private services and do not have access to the public services because they are not linked to particular schools or workplaces.

Family conflicts top the list of psychological problems for which people come to the service, Shatilo said.

The collapse of the Soviet Union, Lyashenko said, “divided families between those who grew up during the USSR and young people formed in a completely different world”. - AFP

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