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mental health

Photos of an Illegal Mental Health Awareness March in Moscow

Campaigners of PsychoActive risked arrest to demonstrate against the lack of mental health support in Russia.

by Olga Kravets
03 May 2019, 9:27am

Members of PsychoActive. 

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.

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Katrin Nenasheva, one of the founders of PsychoActive, unwraps a banner that reads: "Mad, Labour, May", a reference to the Soviet Union worker's slogan: "Peace, Labour, May".

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."

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Varvara Tereshenko, 26, a Moscow-based artist and kindergarten art teacher sticks a banner to herself that reads: "Good mood with a bad ending," with the diagnosis code for bipolar disorder, F31.

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.

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Despite the high risk of getting arrested, many of the protesters were under 18.
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The banner reads: “We/You exist".
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Masha, 17, came with her friends because they all thought it important to show their support.
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This was Vassily's first ever rally. The 21-year-old was diagnosed with bulimia, sociopathy and PTSD about six months ago, and he wanted to show that there are more people like him.
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Tessa is bipolar, and says she was afraid to join the rally last year, but she was determined to take a stand this time.
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Sasha Starost is one of the founders of the PsychoActive community.
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Katrin Nenasheva helped launch PsychoActive.
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Moscow police guarding the march.
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PsychoActivists reach the final stop on the route of the authorised rally, and mix with a pro- vegan group.
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A vlogger captures the rally.
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Vassily (right).
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Luiza, 21, feels emboldened enough to show off her self-harm scars.

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.