On the eve of the Narendra Modi-led NDA Government’s third anniversary, there is an unforeseen push in the health sector. From reducing the prices of essential drugs and stents and passing a bill that protects the rights and provides free treatment to the HIV-infected citizens, this is truly a watershed moment for the healthcare sector. In a rare instance of non-partisan lawmaking, Parliament passed the Mental Healthcare Bill protecting the rights and providing access to mental healthcare for persons with mental illness. The biggest highlight of the bill is that it essentially decriminalizes suicide.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s latest Mann ki Baat saw him highlighting the issue of depression and the need to openly talk about it. Strangely in India, mental illness and depression are not really considered as illness and are often mistaken as abnormalities. It’s no secret that mental health issues continue to be misunderstood in this country. People suffering from depression rarely get proper counselling and treatment because their families often try to hide their condition out of a sense of shame.
With the introduction of the Mental Healthcare Bill, 2016, the law states that mental illness is indeed an illness and not something to be frowned upon.
Laws shaped during colonial era are nothing but archaic which represent a huge problem for governance as they create scope for misuse. The decision to decriminalize suicide is a welcome break from such laws as it clearly states that any person who attempts to commit suicide shall be presumed to be under severe stress and not be punished under the penal code. Prosecuting a person for trying to commit suicide was a ridiculous manifestation of the Indian law until now. It’s certainly positive such redundant laws are done away with. Having said that the Mental Healthcare Bill except for the decriminalization of suicide also consists of some salient features. The highlights of the bill are as follows:-
Everyone can access mental healthcare at government or public funded institution
They have the right to equality of treatment and protection from inhuman treatment like sterilisation, chaining, confinement etc and have access to free legal services if required
A mentally-ill person shall have the prerogative in advance to how he/she wants to be treated for the illness and can also nominate his/her representative
Electro-convulsive therapy, an extremely painful process, will only be allowed to use with anaesthesia and muscle relaxants. Minors won’t be allowed to undergo ECT
Setting up of a quasi-judicial body to advise the GoI on the protection of the mentally ill
Right to complain about deficient care
Mental Illness to be covered under insurance
All said and done, implementation of the Mental Healthcare bill would prove to be a herculean task for the government. According to National Mental Health Survey, roughly 14% of the estimated population is said to suffer from some form of mental illness. Alarmingly, India has only around some 4,000 qualified psychiatrists against a requirement of 12,500 and only 3,000 psychiatric nurses. Which roughly amounts to nearly one psychiatrist for 4 lakh patients. Public hospitals also face a huge manpower crunch and lack of basic facilities. For ideal implementation of the bill, the government would need to bolster it’s primary healthcare and train more doctors so that basic mental ailments can be tackled at it’s initiation.
Even if the GoI implements the bill in it’s truest sense, the bill cannot be successful until we the people, don’t lend a hand. Depression and mental illness are often ignored or are hidden under the blanket of shame. Movies like “Dear Zindagi” have touched upon that subject and tried to explain that mental illness and depression can befall any person and can be cured with proper treatment. We as a society have not evolved when it comes to topics such as depression. In 90% of the suicide cases, there is a mental illness hiding somewhere but to avoid any hassle people often call it an accident and the mental condition remains undiagnosed. We, as a society, must overcome such dogma.
Life, no matter how beautiful, is often laid with challenges, to which every person reacts differently. Some rise above them and emerge stronger and some get overwhelmed by the situation and slip into a state of sadness. This state can be overcome by a little bit of love, motivation and right treatment. Next time whenever your friend or a family member showing symptoms of depression, make sure instead of ignoring their state and frowning upon them, show them a little bit of love and care. You never know how you might end up helping the said person.
To conclude, the mental healthcare bill should be used as a springboard to secure an individual full rights over his/her life. It’s time we stop imposing painfully invasive treatments against the patient’s will. Medical care must respect the choice of the patient. Only when every citizen of this country has full rights over his/her body, India will truly be a democratic country.
Source(s) :- Times of India (29th March,2017)
Economic Times (30th Match,2017)