We Aren’t Outcasts: We Were Chosen by Illness

Their lives were literally divided into the “before” and the “after”. They used to work, make friends, dream, love, and believe… until a mental disorder broke into their daily routine unexpectedly. After they left the psychiatric hospital, they found themselves alone in the face of the new world where neither the society as a whole nor employers want to have anything in common with them.

Dobrodel Social Rehabilitation Workshop was established by St Elisabeth Convent this spring. Dobrodel gives mentally challenged people an opportunity of rehabilitation. Government regulations guarantee rehabilitation as an integral part of treatment but in fact, mental disorders are heavily stigmatized in our society. Sadly, people are more ready to admit that their relative is an alcohol addict than that s/he is mentally challenged. This is pitiful because no one is ever fully protected against mental health issues. As a result, all rehabilitation efforts are solely the responsibility of the patient’s family. What can possibly be done?

We spent a day in Dobrodel Workshop and saw people who had been abandoned by many but are finding a way to return to normal life.


Sergey is a jack of all trades. He learned to take pictures in a club house and now takes excellent photos. He spent a long time in hospital and looking for a suitable medicine. He is better now but drugs manufactured abroad are not sponsored by the government, so he has to buy them on his own money.

“I was a regular guy. It happened gradually. Several months prior to my demobilization, a drunk soldier started a fight. As a result, I got a double fracture with a displacement of the upper cheekbone and almost lost my eyesight. Now it seems to me that it was the first negative impact on my health.

I lost two close friends whom I had known since my first year at school during the tragic 1990s. I was depressed. I lost sleep. However, I heard about how awful psychiatric hospitals were and decided that I would never go there voluntarily.

I worked in an industrial plant after I had been discharged from the army. My health condition deteriorated until I had a fight with a co-worker. Finally, they sent me to the hospital for compulsory treatment in 1999.”

“When I was dismissed from the hospital in 2000, I received the 2nd disability group, and I was fired from my job immediately. I was looking for a job. I spent some time working as a mover and as an unskilled builder. My condition was unstable due to unsuitable drug therapy: I couldn’t sleep at all, I was weak to the extent of barely being able to drag my feet. After several years of suffering, I went to a private doctor who finally managed to choose the right drugs for me.”

“Today, I feel that I’m a regular person whose skills are in demand. The atmosphere here in the Workshop is totally different. It’s amicable. We are not hopeless. It’s just that the illness chose us.”


Igor is not disabled at all. He graduated from the Belarusian National Technical University, School of Transport. He used to work as an engineer in a large company. However, he admits, his unstable mental state would not let him stay in one and the same position. He had to change jobs all the time.

The Dobrodel Workshop has found a way to use Igor’s engineering skills. He develops schemes and blueprints of new items in AutoCAD. Igor has a very healthy and sweet hobby: he looks after bees. He has 7 beehives in Bierazino Raion. He participated in a special course on apiculture and received a certificate.

“I used to be a regular guy until I was 25 or 26. I had a job, hobbies, and friends. My life was totally normal. Then suddenly I felt bad, and that was how it started. I was weak, I had headaches and strange sensations. My parents showed me to a doctor but he just prescribed me some drugs and sent me away.”

“I know for a fact that our society doesn’t care about the people who are trapped by their own brain. It’s a huge problem. It’s almost impossible to find a good job that corresponds to your skills and qualifications. Employers don’t want to listen to anything you say. Who wants to deal with your quirks and symptoms?”

“The Open House Centre run by the Belarusian Red Cross helped me to adapt and return to normal life. I went from a guest to the foreman of the Centre. I had a list of duties, even if it was small. I felt my own value for the society and for the world.”

“The Dobrodel Workshop is a new step for me. I have crossed the line between rehabilitation and employment. Right now, I have a job. It’s hard for me to talk about it, but that’s my way…”

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