India is one of the most depressed countries and has the greatest burden of mental and behavioural disorders, according to the World Health Organisation.
In 2014, a report by National Crime Records Bureau revealed that the major causes for suicide in the under 14 age group are ‘failure in examination’ and ‘illness’.
The demographic dividend in which Indians take immense pride is the section most prone to committing suicide.
A bill to comprehensively address the issue of mental health was overdue, but now we finally have it – The Mental Health Care Bill, 2013.
The Bill has come a long way from predecessors such as Mental Heath Act (1987), Indian Lunacy Act (1912), and Indian Lunatic Asylum Act (1858).
It was first introduced in 2013 by the UPA government and has departed from the previous legislations to secure the rights and dignity of people suffering from mental illnesses.
It recognises the agency and capacity of the people to chart their own treatment and provides provision to appoint a nominee if and when the patient loses the agency to make such decisions.
The Bill protects rights of individuals and ensures treatment and dignity similar to a person suffering any physical illness.
The Bill follows India’s obligations under Convention of Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and its optional protocol. It is also a nod to the focus levied on mental health under the Sustainable Development Goals.
The biggest highlight of the Bill, which was even lauded by the members of the Opposition, is that it decriminalises the attempt to commit suicide.
Such persons would be considered to be acting under ‘severe stress’ and will be provided with help and rehabilitation. The Bill also limits the use of electro-convulsive therapy and seeks to establish a quasi-judicial body in the form of a Mental Health Review Commission.
Unfortunately, even before it is implemented, the Bill fails in certain respects.
It doesn’t address the issue of property management for people with mental illnesses and hence, has left them vulnerable to exploitation.
Though framed under the ratified CRPD, it differs from its social model of disability and takes a narrow perspective of mental illness, stating that it hampers one’s ability to meet ordinary demands or recognise reality.
There are also questions regarding the allocation of funds by central and state governments for the provisions of the Bill.
However, these blemishes shouldn’t undermine the Bill’s attempt to remove stigma against mental illness in the country.
The Mental Health Care Bill, 2013 is a big step, a necessary one, and in the right direction.