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Sluggishly progressing schizophrenia or sluggish schizophrenia (Russian: вялотекущая шизофрения

, vyalotekushchaya shizofreniya) was a category of schizophrenia diagnosed by psychiatrists in the Soviet Union to justify involuntary treatment of political dissidents. It was defined as a special form of the illness which supposedly affected only the person's social behavior, with no influence on other traits: "most frequently, ideas about a 'struggle for truth and justice' are formed by personalities with a paranoid structure", according to Moscow Serbsky Institute professors.[1] The diagnostic criteria were vague enough to be applied to nearly anyone, as desired. The dissidents were forcibly hospitalized and subjected to treatments which included antipsychotic drugs and electroconvulsive therapy.

Sluggish schizophrenia is not included in the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems 10th Revision (ICD-10);[2] however, its Russian version adds sluggish schizophrenia to schizotypal personality disorder in section F21 of chapter V.[3]


Psychiatric diagnoses (such as the diagnosis of "sluggish schizophrenia" in political dissidents) in the USSR were used for political purposes;[4]:77 the diagnosis of sluggish schizophrenia was most frequently used for dissidents.[5] Critics implied that Snezhnevsky designed the Soviet model of schizophrenia (and this diagnosis) to make political dissent a mental illness.[6] According to American psychiatrist Peter Breggin, the term “sluggish schizophrenia” was created to justify involuntary treatment of political dissidents with drugs normally used for psychiatric patients.[7]

According to Robert van Voren, the political abuse of psychiatry in the USSR arose from the concept that people who opposed the Soviet regime were mentally ill (since there was no logical reason to oppose the sociopolitical system considered the best in the world).[8] The diagnosis of sluggish schizophrenia (a concept developed by the Moscow School of Psychiatry and its chief, Andrei Snezhnevsky) furnished a framework for explaining this behavior.[8]

Although a majority of experts agree that the psychiatrists who developed this concept did so under instructions from the Soviet secret service KGB and the Communist Party (and understood what they were doing), this seemed to many Soviet psychiatrists a logical explanation why someone would be willing to abandon his happiness, family, and career for a conviction so different from what most individuals believed (or made themselves believe).[8] Professor A. Snezhnevsky, the most prominent theorist of Soviet psychiatry and director of the Institute of Psychiatry of the USSR Academy of Medical Sciences, developed a novel classification of mental disorders postulating an original set of diagnostic criteria.[9]

The Soviet model of schizophrenia is based on the hypothesis that a fundamental characteristic (by which schizophrenia spectrum disorders are distinguished clinically) is its longitudinal course.[10]:543 The hypothesis implies three main types of schizophrenia:

  • Continuous: unremitting, proceeding rapidly (“malignant”) or slowly (“sluggish”), with a poor prognosis
  • Periodic (or recurrent): characterized by an acute attack, followed by full remission with little or no progression
  • Mixed (German: schubweise
in German, schub means "phase" or "attack")
mixture of continuous and periodic types which occurs periodically and is characterized by only partial remission[10]:543

The classification of schizophrenia types attributed to Snezhnevsky[11]:278 is still used in Russia,[12]:371 and considers sluggish schizophrenia an example of the continuous type.[13]:414

A carefully-crafted description of sluggish schizophrenia established that psychotic symptoms were non-essential for the diagnosis, but symptoms of psychopathy, hypochondria, depersonalization or anxiety were central to it.[9] Symptoms considered part of the "negative axis" included pessimism, poor social adaptation and conflict with authorities, and were themselves sufficient for a formal diagnosis of "sluggish schizophrenia with few symptoms".[9] According to Snezhnevsky, patients with sluggish schizophrenia could present as seemingly sane but manifest minimal (and clinically relevant) personality changes which could remain unnoticed by the untrained eye.[9] Patients with non-psychotic mental disorders (or who were not mentally ill) could be diagnosed with sluggish schizophrenia.[9] Along with paranoia, sluggish schizophrenia was the diagnosis most frequently used for the psychiatric incarceration of dissenters.[9]

According to Snezhnevsky and his colleagues schizophrenia was more prevalent than previously thought, since the illness could present with relatively-mild symptoms and progress later;[8] schizophrenia was diagnosed more often in Moscow than in other countries, as the World Health Organization Pilot Study on Schizophrenia reported in 1973.[8]

The incidence of sluggish schizophrenia increased because, according to Snezhnevsky and his colleagues, patients with this diagnosis were capable of socially functioning almost normally.[8] Their symptoms could resemble those of a neurosis or paranoia.[8] Patients with paranoid symptoms retained insight into their condition, but overestimated their significance and had grandiose ideas of reforming society.[8] Sluggish schizophrenia could have such symptoms as "reform delusions", "perseverance" and "struggle for the truth".[8] As V.D. Stayzhkin reported, Snezhnevsky diagnosed a reform delusion in every case where a patient "develops a new principle of human knowledge, drafts an ideal of human happiness or other projects for the benefit of mankind".[14]:66

During the 1960s and 1970s, theories which contained ideas about reforming society, struggling for the truth, and religious convictions were not considered delusional paranoid disorders in nearly all foreign classifications; however, Soviet psychiatry (for ideological reasons) considered critiques of the political system and proposals to reform it as delusional behavior.[15]:19 The diagnoses of sluggish schizophrenia and paranoid states with delusions of reform were used only in the Soviet Union and several Eastern European countries.[15]:18

An audience member at a lecture by Georgi Morozov on forensic psychiatry in the Serbsky Institute asked, “Tell us, Georgi Vasilevich, what is actually the diagnosis of sluggish schizophrenia?”[16] Since the question was asked ironically Morozov replied ironically: “You know, dear colleagues, this is a very peculiar disease. There are not delusional disorders, there are not hallucinations, but there is schizophrenia!”[16]

American psychiatrist Alan A. Stone stated that Western criticism of Soviet psychiatry was directed at Sneznevsky, because he was responsible for the Soviet diagnosis of sluggishly progressing schizophrenia with "reformism" and other symptoms.[17]:8 This diagnosis could be applied to dissenters.[17]:8

Snezhnevsky was attacked in the West as an example of psychiatric abuse in the USSR.[5] He was charged with developing a system of diagnoses which could be used for political purposes, and diagnosed (or was involved with) a series of famous dissident cases (including biologist Zhores Medvedev, mathematician Leonid Plyushch[5] and Vladimir Bukovsky, whom Snezhnevsky diagnosed as schizophrenic on 5 July 1962).[18]:70

According to Moscow psychiatrist Alexander Danilin, the nosological approach in the Moscow psychiatric school established by Andrei Snezhnevsky (whom Danilin considered a political offender) boiled down to the ability to diagnose schizophrenia; psychiatry was not science, but a system of opinions by which millions of lives were affected by a diagnosis of "sluggish schizophrenia".[19]

St Petersburg professor of psychiatry Yuri Nuller notes that Snezhnevsky’s concept allowed schizoid personality disorder as the early stages of an inevitable process, rather than the personality characteristics of an individual which may not develop into schizophrenia.[20][21] This resulted in an expansion of the diagnosis of sluggish schizophrenia, with subsequent harm.[20][21] Nuller adds that within the scope of sluggish schizophrenia, any deviation from the norm (evaluated by a doctor) can be regarded as schizophrenia.[20][21] This created the opportunity for the voluntary (and involuntary) abuse of psychiatry.[20][21] However, according to Nuller neither Snezhnevsky nor his followers reviewed their theories.[20][21]

Psychology and Psychiatry in Russia and the USSR
Political abuse (Russia)
Political abuse (USSR)
Independent Psychiatric Association of Russia
Russian Society of Psychiatrists
Russian Mental Health Law
Sluggishly progressing schizophrenia
Soviet psychology

See also


  1. Anne Applebaum, Gulag: A History, Doubleday, April, 2003, hardcover, 677 pages, ISBN 0-7679-0056-1; trade paperback, Bantam Dell, 11 May, 2004, 736 pages, ISBN 1-4000-3409-4 Introduction online
  2. The ICD-10 Classification of Mental and Behavioural Disorders. F21 Schizotypal Disorder
  3. /F21/ Шизотипическое расстройство / Психические расстройства и расстройства поведения (F00—F99). Класс V МКБ-10, адаптированный для использования в Российской Федерации
  4. (2005) Psychiatry at a glance, 77, Wiley-Blackwell.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Reich, Walter (30 January 1983). The world of Soviet psychiatry. The New York Times.
  6. Stone, Alan (2002). Psychiatrists on the side of the angels: the Falun Gong and Soviet Jewry. The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law 30 (1): 107–111.
  7. Breggin, Peter (1993). Psychiatry's role in the holocaust. International Journal of Risk & Safety in Medicine 4 (1993): 133–148.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 8.7 8.8 van Voren R. (2010). Political Abuse of Psychiatry—An Historical Overview. Schizophrenia Bulletin 36 (1): 33–35.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 (December 2006). Psychiatry in post-communist Ukraine: dismantling the past, paving the way for the future. The Psychiatrist 30 (12): 456–459.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Lavretsky, Helen (1998). The Russian Concept of Schizophrenia: A Review of the Literature. Schizophrenia Bulletin 24 (4): 537–557.
  11. (Russian) Блейхер, Вадим (1984). Эпонимические термины в психиатрии, психотерапии и медицинской психологии. Словарь, 278, Киев: Головное издательство Издательского объединения «Вища школа».
  12. (Russian) (2000) Психиатрия: Учебник, 371, Москва: Медицина.
  13. (Russian) (1999) Тиганов, Александр Руководство по психиатрии. Том 1, 414, Москва: Медицина.
  14. Stayzhkin, V.D. (1992). Diagnosis of a Paranoiac (Delusional) Personality Development in the Forensic Psychiatric Expert Examination. The Bekhterev Review of Psychiatry and Medical Psychology: 65–68.
  15. 15.0 15.1 (Russian) (2002) Советская психиатрия: Заблуждения и умысел, 18–19, Киев: Издательство «Сфера».
  16. 16.0 16.1 (Russian) includeonly>Глузман, Семён. "Украинское лицо судебной психиатрии".
  17. 17.0 17.1 Stone, Alan (1985). Law, Psychiatry, and Morality: Essays and Analysis, 8, American Psychiatric Pub.
  18. (1992)Diagnosis of a “Severe Personality Disorder” as a Cause of Criminal Inresponsibility: V.K. Bukovsky. The Bekhterev Review of Psychiatry and Medical Psychology: 69–73.
  19. (Russian) Данилин, Александр (28 марта 2008). Тупик. Русская жизнь.
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 20.4 (Russian) Нуллер, Юрий (1993). Парадигмы в психиатрии, Киев: Видання Асоцiац ii психiатрiв Украiнi.
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 21.3 21.4 (Russian) Нуллер (1991). О парадигме в психиатрии. Обозрение психиатрии и медицинской психологии имени В.М. Бехтерева (№ 4).

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