NEW DELHI -- India's new mental health bill was proposed two years ago, but is still stuck in the legislative process. The Indian government in 2007 ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which means India has to align with the Convention. To that effect, the Mental Health Care Bill, 2013 was first introduced in the Rajya Sabha on 19 August to repeal the existing Mental Health Act, 1987.
Unfortunately the bill, introduced by then health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad of the United Progressive Alliance, had to be withdrawn. Later, the present government under the Bharatiya Janata Party made a few changes and the next health minister Harsh Vardhan promised to push the bill aggressively in Parliament. Present health minister J P Nadda too has acknowledged the need to address mental health treatment in India. Here are five key features of the bill you need to know:
What Is Mental Illness?
The bill defines “mental illness” as "a substantial disorder of thinking, mood, perception, orientation or memory that grossly impairs judgment, behaviour, capacity to recognise reality or ability to meet the ordinary demands of life." It includes mental conditions associated with alcohol and drug abuse, but does not include mental retardation, as it is a result of incomplete mental development of the person.
Who Makes Decision On Treatment?
Unless the person is completely incapable of understanding their illness, they will decide for themselves what kind of treatment they receive. If a person with mental illness is able to understand information relevant to their treatment, retain that information, use it to make a decision and communicate it using speech, sign language, or any other means, no one else can make these decisions for them, according to the proposed legislation.
Access To Treatment
Everyone should have access to mental health services which are either offered by the government or funded by them, according to the new bill. This means that the health services should be affordable and easily available, and those seeking treatment should not have to travel long distances.
Role Of State Government
Within nine months of the bill being passed, state governments will have to establish their own mental health authority, and integrate mental health services into general health care at all levels. This means mental health services should be available in primary, secondary and tertiary health care.
The act decriminalises attempt to suicide, placing it under the ambit of mental illness. Instead of punishing people who attempt suicide, the government wants to help them and offer mental health care facilities.