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Psychiatric Commitment in Armenia Mainly Used for ‘Punishment’ Purposes

50 percent of the people in Armenian psychiatric facilities should not even be there as they have no mental health problems; they merely need social care, Artur Sakunts, the head of the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly Vanadzor office, said on Tuesday, speaking at the Health and Human Rights conference in Yerevan.

In Armenia, according to Sakunts, psychiatric commitment is quite often unjustified and is used as a punitive measure against political and civil society actors. “The incident with civic activist Yervand Karapetyan comes to mind, whom police took to a psychiatric facility for picketing outside the Armenian Public TV building.

“Activist Vardges Gaspari, for his part, was taken to a hospital for a psychiatric assessment after asking the investigator in his case whether he had been involved in the criminal proceedings in connection with the [post-election] incidents in March, 2008.

“Human rights activist Armine Arakelyan was taken to a mental clinic for staging a protest at the Republic Square…” Sakunts recalled.

The human rights activist also noted that, according to the results of the monitoring carried out by HCAV in Armenia's mental facilities in 2007-2013, the majority of the psychiatric hospitals in the country were strict-regime, turning what should have been medical treatment into jail-like incarceration. “Keeping people in closed psychiatric institutions almost always results in limitations of the patients' basic human rights and freedoms,” Sakunts said.

The most commonly observed violations, Sakunts continued, were related to the justifications for citizens' psychiatric commitment, the quality of the provided medication and the medical supplies and equipment used in their treatment. Armenia's mental institutions, he added, also limited the patients' ability to communicate to the outside world and subjected them to inhuman or degrading treatment during the application of, often uncalled for, restraint measures.

HCAV research has also shown that the majority of the patients in Armenian psychiatric facilities have been placed there without their consent. “Incapacitated people are more vulnerable to involuntary commitment; they are often placed in mental institutions by their caregivers with the aim of punishing them or gaining possession of their property,” the HCAV head stressed.