There is no denial in the fact that mental health has been a marginally neglected sphere of the medical world, especially in India. Stereotyping every mental disorder as madness, we have witnessed patients being subjected to prejudice and negligence. Despite the fact that mental health is equally important as physical health, yet the awareness about it not satisfactory. This negligence is alarming and hence requires undivided attention to formulate a viable solution for the same.
In advent to this, on August 8 2016, the Mental Health Care(MHC) Bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha. Following it, the Bill was tabled in Lok Sabha, where also the Bill passed on Monday, 27th March 2017. The present MHC Bill has repealed the 1987 MHC Bill.
Out of numerous striking features, one of the most striking feature of the Bill is that it fulfills India’s obligation to the Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its optional protocol which India had signed and ratified on 1st October 2007. The notable fact, however, is the difference in the social model of disabilities as approached in the Convention and the Bill. While the Convention focuses on how disability hampers a person’s complete participation in the society, the Bill, on the other hand focused on inability of a person to function emotionally normal.
Another salient feature of the Bill turns out to be its measures that empowers person suffering from mental illness by giving them important discretionary powers. Unlike the 1987 MHC Bill, the present bill has been drafted in such a manner that equal and important rights have been bestowed on the patient. The capacity to exercise these rights is recognized if the individual can understand relevant information, acknowledge the consequences of his decision and also communicate them. The Bill provides every person, except a minor, the right to make Advance Directives. It essentially means that the patient now has the right to make choice of the treatment he wants to be used for his recovery. Besides this, the patients also has the right to nominate a representative for themselves. The nominated representative will be solely responsible for guarding the interests of the patient. It is an important step that has been taken in interest of the mentally ill people. Usually, in cases of mental illness the patients are emotionally extremely vulnerable and fragile, hence, it is important to have people whom they trust, around. It will help in instilling trust and confidence in them that will be beneficial in their quick and effective recovery.
In contradiction to the 1987 MHC Bill, the present Bill broadly engulfs the rights of these mentally ill patients. The Bill not only guaranteed right to access mental health and treatment from mental health services funded by government, but also ensures the same is made available at an affordable cost without any discrimination with easy access in good quality. The Bill enshrines right to live with dignity, protection from inhuman or degrading treatment, right to relevant information, right to confidentiality, right to legal aid and other such rights that are important for patients undergoing such illness.
The Bill also substantiates over development of infrastructure for such cases and in that regard, it provides for creation of Central and State Mental Health Authorities in order to develop good quality and size these services. The Bill also focuses on creation of Mental Health Review Boards that shall have the discretionary powers over the various rights and protections guaranteed by the Bill. It is important to keep such sensitive health issues under the guarded ambit of supervision to ensure maximization of desired output. Lately, there has been an exponential increase in the transformation of medicine into money-making business. Before such corrupt, parasitic practices infect the CPU of our body, we have to take preventive measures to check the same. The Bill, with its provision for registration of institutions and stringent regulations of the sector, ensures a foreseeable desired success rate.
Electro-Compulsive treatment, which is a last resort treatment for mental illness, has been strictly restricted as an emergency treatment only. It has been mentioned that ECT without anesthesia or muscle relaxant is also not allowed. Minors too have been excluded from the ambit of this rare treatment. It is therefore visible on all tangents that the Bill is extremely progressive in nature and has been woven in manner that it is as patient friendly as it can be.
Another appreciable feature of the Bill is its denial to management of property that belongs to the patient. It is a matter of serious concern, as these vulnerable people could be easily manipulated and exploited and their property can be confiscated by any person. To avoid the same, the Bill provides no provision for management of property of these people.
Having discussed about these distinguished features, the most important attribute of the present MHC Bill is decriminalization of attempt to commit suicides. The Bill decriminalize suicides and presumes such people to be suffering from severe stress. The Bill also makes the government responsible to rehabilitate such people and ensure that they do not indulge in similar acts ever again. While decriminalization seems to be correct step, it is undeniable that it is too early to be affirmative about its appropriateness and success. There is a probability that many people after this reduced resistance associated with suicide, will indulge in this cowardly act, because our generation is more about being submissive than fighting back.
This Bill, a new endeavor, shall enlighten the minds that lay around us, dark in sorrow in depression!