Will the Mental Healthcare Bill 2013 address the woes of the mentally ill?

Tuesday, 20 August 2013 - 4:08pm IST | Agency: health.india.com
The bill has been waiting in the wings for some time and will make some wholesale changes to the earlier Mental Health Act 1987.

Finally, the much-awaited Mental Healthcare Bill 2013 was introduced in the Rajya Sabha by health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad.

The bill has been waiting in the wings for some time and will make some wholesale changes to the earlier Mental Health Act 1987.

The new bill decriminalises suicide, gives people a chance to write an ‘advanced directive’ which will decide how they’re to be treated if they take mentally ill and will also force insurance companies will have to make provisions for treatment for mental conditions the same way they do for physical ones.

Here are some of the major talking points of the Mental Healthcare Bill 2013:

Decriminalises attempted suicides

Finally, it has been recognised that people who commit suicides are not criminals but those in need of treatment. Till now by jailing people who tried to commit suicides, the authorities were only heaping more pressure on people already suffering from mental health issues. According to the  British journall the Lancet, suicide has become the leading cause of death among Indian youngsters.  WHO estimates that 1.8 lakh suicides occur in India every year but very few epidemiological studies have been carried out in the country This move will hopefully allow them to get the treatment they need. (Read: ‘I am broken inside’: Lessons from Jiah Khan’s death and suicide note)

The ability to choose treatment options

The bill also gives every person the right to make an ‘advanced directive’ that is they can write a statement explain how they want to be treated in case they become non-compos mentis (not of sane mind). The aforementioned person, if they make it known that they don’t want to committed to an institution can’t be forced to do so by doctors or members of the family. The person can also choose a nominated representative to assist them with the treatment and also look after their interests.

Medical insurance to cover mental health treatment

It also says that all insurance companies will have to make provisions for medical insurance for the treatment of mental illness akin to physical diseases. The proposed laws are seen by many as path-breaking and will also provide legal protection for those who suffer from mental illnesses and look to improve the current situation where they’re often at the mercy of care-givers. (Read: Depression – understanding it is half the battle won)

Ensure equality and dignity for the mentally ill

The essence of the bill is to safeguard the right to access to mental healthcare facilities, the right community living, right to protection from cruelty, inhuman treatment and right to equality and non-discrimination. The bill looks to ensure that mental healthcare facilities are available to all. The new bill also looks to regulate both public and private mental health sectors along with establishing a mental health which will be integrated into all levels of general healthcare.

Ban on archaic and barbaric treatment methods

It bans archaic practice like electro-convulsive therapy without anaesthesia and restricts psychosurgery and strictly forbids the chaining of mentally ill patients (a practice quite common in many parts of India) and the sterilisation of men or women when such a practice is considered a course of action for the treatment of mental illness. There are also provisions for establishing a state and central Mental Health Authority along with a Mental Health Review Commission.

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