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Of what can be called a healthy law making, the Parliament has finally stepped in and passed the long awaited Mental Healthcare Bill, 2016, which provides for affordable healthcare and services to people with mental illness. Survivors of attempted suicide will no longer have to undergo prosecution as the bill has also decriminalized suicide.

The bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha with 134 official amendments in August last year. It was introduced to ensure that every person avails their right to access mental health care and treatment from institutions run or funded by the government. It also guaranteed free treatment for such persons if they are homeless or poor, even if they do not possess a Below Poverty Line card.

The Lower House passed it by voice vote as all parties were in support of the legislation.

The prime feature of the bill is that it seeks to provide proper health-care, treatment and rehabilitation of mentally ill persons "in a manner that does not intrude on their rights and dignity." Union health minister J P Nadda said that people suffering from mental illness shall now be ensured complete health care ensuring humane treatment without any compromise to the dignity of their life.

The bill is described as "patient-centric" measure to empower the mentally ill patients so that they can secure a proper treatment.

The highlights of the bill are-

  • The most noteworthy part of the bill is that it decriminalizes suicide. Any person who attempts to commit suicide shall be presumed, unless proved otherwise, to be suffering from mental illness.
  • The government will be responsible for the care and rehabilitation of patients under severe stress and strain or the ones who have attempted to suicide. The purpose is to prevent such an occurrence from taking place again.
  • The patients have the right to privacy and confidentiality of their mental illness and its treatments. Photographs or additional information about the same cannot be released to the media without the consent of the individual.
  • They will also have the right to make an advance directive to state as to how he/she would want to treat their illnesses. A representative can also be nominated on their behalf.
  • The protection granted shall be against discrimination based on gender, caste, religion, beliefs, class or disability, culture and more. Everyone shall be guaranteed the right to access free legal services and the right to register a complaint if denied so.
  • Electro-convulsive (electric shock) therapy will not be used on minors. And in case of adults, it will only be used along with muscle relaxants and anesthesia.
  • The patients cannot be placed in solitary confinement or subjected to seclusion. Under no circumstances would someone with mental illness be chained in the name of treatment.

Most importantly the bill has empowered the government to set up Central and State Mental Health Authority, vesting them with the duty to oversee operations at the national and state level respectively. Mental health institutes and practitioners including doctors, nurses and psychiatric social workers will mandatorily have to register themselves with this Authority.

Nearly 1%-2% of the country's population suffers from severe mental disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and nearly 5% of the population has suffers from depression and anxiety.

Mental healthcare bill is a progressive legislation for interest & protection of life, treatment and protection of property of mental patients. The long borne stigma of mental illness shall now fade away in the coming days with the passage of this bill.  

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