With the beginning of the 21st century, Russians' optimism began to grow. According to figures recently released by the Institute of Comparative Social Research (ISSI), in 1997-1999, less than 20% of the population expected any improvements in the new year, in late 2003 this number had grown to 30%.
Respondents based their optimism on Russia's continued economic growth, its timely foreign debt settlement, growing incomes of the population (according to President Vladimir Putin, last year "real wages increased by 11% less inflation), reduced unemployment and enterprises' increasing orders. "The majority of Russians consider 2004 a stabilisation year. More than 50% of respondents said next year would be the same as the previous," ISSI reports. In 1999-2002, 10-11% of Russians expected changes for the worse, while at the end of 2003 only 5% were so pessimistic.
Nonetheless, this well-being is overshadowed by some alarming phenomena, mainly resulting from the social and economic upheavals of the previous decade. "The number of borderline cases, when a patient balances on the edge of psychological health and illness has increased," said a psychoneurologist, Alexander Karpov. "Such conditions appear in reaction to unfavourable everyday circumstances, stress, and complicated social conditions. "Although Russian medical science has the means to treat neglected cases, they can not cure depression.
Ten percent of the population needs psychological treatment, says a recent report on Russia's observance of the International Pact of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights drafted by NGOs, such as the Foundation for a Civil Society, the Centre for Democratic Development and Human Rights and the Moscow Helsinki Group (MHG).
While genes are the main cause of psychological problems, the rapid pace of life and constant stress are responsible too. The human brain has no time to get adjusted to rapidly changing reality, said Tatiana Dmitriyeva, an academician.
As for the social roots of psychological troubles, experts' optimism proceeds from the fact that according to an opinion poll conducted by the All-Russian Public Opinion Centre, about 80% of Russians see themselves as part of the middle class. Part of the respondents obviously have an inflated self-opinion, because in reality they do not meet the middle class criteria, and this causes depression. However, scientists prefer to see such self-identification as a good sign. Practice has shown that those who refer to themselves as "the middle-class Russians" usually have a positive outlook and believe in themselves and the future of the country. The middle class is usually a pledge of socio-economic stability and psychological balance in society.
On the other hand, wealthy citizens demonstrate fewer signs of psychological health. The Chairman of the Board of Directors the Family Medicine Corporation, Igor Aparin, said the majority of VIP-clients at medical clinics have symptoms of depression and anhedonia, i.e. lack of any desires. However, they take failures patiently and optimistically, which is typical of the entire nation.
The state intends to upgrade the system of psychiatric services with the Development of Psychiatric Aid in the Russian Federation programme. The programme stipulates that psychiatric services be accessible to the population. To this end, general psychiatric offices and psychiatric departments will be opened in hospitals. Social measures are important as well. The network of treatment and labour workshops should be expanded. "Healthcare agencies should be able to provide employment for our patients, which used to be the case in Soviet times," said Alexander Karpov.
Preventive measures, medically speaking, are equally important. Experts insist that the government and society cooperate in providing regular preventive measures to children. The impact of the mass culture and the media on the psychology of children is especially alarming. "The scenarios offered by the current films, TV programmes and adverts are usually extremely negative," said psychologist Irina Kuznetsova, director of the executive department of the presidential programme, Russian Children, of the Russian Education Ministry. "We sometimes place in question centuries' old moral values. This elimination of the distinction between good and evil has a destructive effect on children's souls and cuts the ground from under their feet. Children need clear examples of the good and the humane, and here the government should send a positive message," Irina Kuznetsova said.
There are grounds for optimistic forecasts, though. Experts have concluded that "psychological untimeliness," when the old has been destroyed and the new has not been built yet, is over for many Russians, and this is inspiring.