PsychoActive is a Moscow-based collective that aims to raise awareness of the lack of mental health support in Russia. The group – which started as a small online community but has grown to around 3,000 members – celebrated its first anniversary on Wednesday by marching through central Moscow.
Since they couldn't secure permission from the government to have their own public event, PsychoActive decided to tag along with an authorised May Day demonstration, organised by a coalition of left-wing opposition parties. If they had protested without a permit, the activists could have been arrested and sentenced to up to two weeks in jail. PsychoActive were not the only group to crash the worker's day demonstration – there was also a pro-vegan group and a feminist collective.
When PsychoActive tried to infiltrate a pro-government May Day demonstration last year, several of their members were arrested. Despite the risk, around 40 of them took part in this year's demonstration – many of whom were protesting for the first time.
Thankfully, there were no arrests this year; PsychoActive were able to hold up banners that highlighted the soaring costs of medication, the stigma that many people face when they speak publicly about their conditions and the lack of quality care in many hospitals.
"We want to show that despite what many in society like to think, there are a lot more people just like us, and that we are not monsters," said first-time protester Vassily, 21. "Many of us are meeting each other in real life for the first time," said Sasha Starost, one of the founders of PsychoActive. "Our group on Vkontakte [a Russian social network] has more than 3,000 members, but only 40 brave souls showed up, which is understandable."
The group might seem small, but they are taking a huge step in a country that has one of the highest rates of teen suicide in the world.
Every year, about 7 million Russians seek help from a mental health professional. The Russian statistics agency, Rosstat, claims that this number is decreasing, but many experts believe this is down to people not wanting to report their condition due to the way they are treated by doctors and their communities.
As the rally came to an end, the left-wing activists who were there for the worker's day march gathered to listen to speeches, as the police tried to disperse everyone else. Over coffee and ice-cream, PsychoActive gathered in a nearby park to share personal stories and offer each other support.
Scroll down to see more photos from PsychoActive's not-so secret demonstration.
Correction: One photo caption in this story originally suggested that Varvara Tereshenko herself was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. That's incorrect – she has people close to her who were.
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.