A Look Into the Past: Ukraine’s Mental Healthcare System

Mental healthcare in the United States has come a long way from what it once was. Up until the 1960s and 70s, patients were treated in large, state run psychiatric hospitals, and would be deemed a danger to society until the invention of new anti-psychotic medications. These new drugs paved the way for deinstitutionalization, and a brand new system in which mentally ill patients are able to seek care in a more communal setting. While it is thought this way of institutionalizing patients with mental illnesses is a thing of the past, this not at all the case in other parts of the world. To find a system that reflects the way ours used to be, one can look to the former Soviet State of Ukraine; this is exactly what Shelly Yankovskyy has done in her article “Mental Health Care in Ukraine: Twenty Years after the Soviet Union”.

Twenty years after the end of the Soviet Union, Ukraine is still establishing itself and all its public services. Struggling to keep up in particular is the system of mental healthcare, which currently resembles the older version of the United States’ own system: patients suffering from mental illnesses live and are treated in state-run psychiatric hospitals. Within this system lie some effects of the Soviet Union, such as using the diagnosis of a mental illness as a means of oppression. The problems that currently exist in Ukrainian mental healthcare facilities are vaguely similar to those that used to exist within our own: these institutions are meant to keep the mentally ill separated from society.

The system within Ukraine is attempting to reform itself in the same way that the United States did by making the change over from state-run care, to the community-based care that Americans have become familiar with today. The process over there, however, has been slow and agonizing. Many Ukrainian mental health experts do not feel that the country is ready to change its system in such a dramatic way because it will force even bigger changes on the communities responsible for caring for those with mental illness. This uprooting of one system in favor of another is just another way Ukraine has begun to separate itself from its much darker Soviet past.

It is interesting to see the way mental illness is treated in different cultures, as many cultures still use mental illnesses as a means of dehumanization. In Ukraine, as its system for handling those with mental illness begins to change, perhaps some of the stigmas and problems associated with mental illness and its treatment will begin to be lifted. Perhaps the changes in Ukrainian culture that emerge  from this new way of treating mental illness will be for the better, and allow it to further separate from its Soviet past in order to give patients better care and treatment.


Yankovskyy, Shelly. “Mental Health Care in Ukraine: Twenty Years after the Soviet Union.”Somatosphere. 14 Nov. 2011. Web. <http://somatosphere.net/2011/11/mental-health-care-in-ukraine-twenty-years-after-the-soviet-union.html