Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine


Editorial: political abuse of psychiatry in authoritarian systems

J. P. Tobin 

Consultant Psychiatrist


We are painfully aware: Psychiatry in some states of the international community is often used to subvert the political and legal guarantees of the freedom of the individual and to violate seriously his human and legal rights (Daes, 1986).

Objective It can be politically convenient to incarcerate political opponents in a psychiatric hospital. It saves any potential political embarrassment that a judicial trial may present. It also undermines the credibility of opponents by labelling them with the stigma of being mentally insane. For this to occur, there has to be the acquiescence of mental health professionals and a subservient legal system.

Method This article examines the abuse of psychiatry in two authoritarian systems, Russia and China.

Result New diagnostic categories such as sluggish schizophrenia were created to facilitate the silencing of dissenters and were a source of self-deception for psychiatrist to placate their consciences as they operated as a tool of oppression on behalf of a political system.

Conclusion If we do not know the past, we will be condemned to repeat it.

(Received September 04 2012)

(Revised January 22 2013)

(Accepted January 24 2013)

(Online publication May 23 2013)

Key words

  • Ankangs;
  • cultural revolution;
  • geneva initiative on psychiatry;
  • paranoid psychosis;
  • political dissident;
  • serbski institutes;
  • sluggish schizophrenia;
  • stalinist era;
  • state repression;
  • World Psychiatric Association


Address for correspondence: J. P. Tobin, BSc, MB, LLM, MRCPsch, FRCPC, Consultant Psychiatrist, Bloomfield Health Services, Stocking Lane, Rathfarnham, Dublin 16, Ireland. (Email