Involuntary detention of a person in a psychiatric institution may not always be motivated by their mental disorder. Its duration may also be extended unnecessarily. Abusive internment may occur on basis of mental retardation, family disputes or in order to escape severe punishment for a criminal act. In the case of a well-known personality, commitment to a psychiatric hospital may more easily discredit his or her views, and avoid political martyrdom. It may also make the confiscation of property seem more justifiable, particularly if the person has held a responsible position.
Countries whose legislation does not allow for a precise definition of the terms 'mental illness' or 'mental disorder', nor for the protection of 'mental patients' against family and state, and where psychiatric hospitals are repressive institutions, offer greater possibilities for abuse. The commitment of dissidents in USSR to psychiatric hospitals, and the physical treatment they receive in these institutions, is clearly an advanced weapon of political warfare. In the early 1950s and again since 1965, it has been clear that psychiatric diagnoses of political dissenters are not based on clinical impressions or objective tests but on official instructions. Political prisoners may be committed to a psychiatric hospital rather than a normal prison, for brainwashing and indoctrination to combat ideological deviation, sometimes forceably confined for months or years. They may be punished by the used of powerful drugs such as triftazin, sulfazin and aminazin. In special psychiatric hospitals, where regimes are harsher, inmates are severely beaten by convicted criminals employed as orderlies.