An analysis of the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017
Written by: Yashjeet Singh Mehta, Student, Delhi Metropolitan Education, GGSIPU
Mental health is a condition in which a person is enabled to function and experience life as meaningful and due to his mental well-being his quality of life enhances. Mental health differs from general health of a human being as in some situations a mentally ill person may not be able to take prudent decisions about his health. Mental illness, somehow, is still treated as a taboo in India because people tend to believe that being mentally ill is equivalent to being insane and such illness has no cure. This serious lack of awareness and judgement about mental health prevails due to illiteracy, lack of medical facilities and practitioners in India. However, some legislation like the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 does exist to support and recognize mental healthcare and its importance.
The World Health Organisation defines Mental Health as “Mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”
The organization didn’t just describe mental health as a condition in which there is absence of any mental disorder but rather to be aware and look after for the current wellbeing and happiness. The organization also recognizes that a mentally ill person does possess some rights and such rights must be protected. The mental healthcare act of 2017 is an amended act which revoked the previous mental healthcare act of 1987 which didn’t recognize the rights of mentally ill persons.
According to a study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences in India, in 2016, prior to the amended act, the existence of current and lifetime depression rate is 2.7% and 5.2% across 12 different states. According to the report, 1 in 40 people are suffering from past and 1 in 20 people are suffering from current episodes of depression all over the country. These severe conditions of one of the many mental disabilities clearly indicate the need of having legislations for mental healthcare in India.
Analysis of the Act
The mental healthcare act, 2017 was passed by the Lok Sabha on March 27, 2017 unanimously and further got its approval from the Hon’ble president of India in April 2017. The Section 2(1)(s) of this act defines mental illness as “ “mental illness” means 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, mental conditions associated with the abuse of alcohol and drugs, but does not include mental retardation which is a condition of arrested or incomplete development of mind of a person, specially characterised by subnormality of intelligence.” This definition comprehensively defines what mental illness is, how it is different from mental retardation and describes that it is a disorder in the mind which is the most important thing to understand because only by understanding and elaborating on the very definition of mental illness we can find successful cures for mental disabilities.
One of the key features of this act is that it recognizes the rights of the mentally ill people and further helps them. This act gives every person the right to mental healthcare services which must be affordable, accessible and of good quality. This act also seeks to protect the mentally ill persons from inhuman treatments and help them get access to free legal services if any of the provisions of this act is breached.
This act decriminalized attempted suicide by mentally ill person which according to me is one of the best amendments in this act. A mentally ill person already is suffering and prosecuting him for attempting to take his own life while he was suffering will not help him cure instead it will worsen his illness. This act also prohibits Electroconvulsive therapy to those people to who are mentally ill without the use of muscle relaxants and anesthesia. And it also strictly denies ECT on patients who are minors.
This act also provides access to treatment by an advance directive to the patients. This means that the mentally ill person will have the right to decide the manner in which they want to be treated for their illness. They also have the right to decide their nominated representative. The Section 5 of this act empowers Advance Directive.
This act also talks about the procedure for admission of mentally ill persons, how and what treatment and medications they might be subjected to and subsequently after being cured the process of their discharge. This act guarantees access to public healthcare.
This act also outlines the punishments for the violation of any of the provisions encoded under this act. This punishment will be imprisonment up to 6 months or Rs. 10000 fine or both. Repeat offenders of this act can be subjected to imprisonment up to 2 years or a fine of Rs. 50000- 5 lakhs or both.
This act provides certain responsibilities like if a police officer has a reason to suspect that a mentally ill person is being subjected to ill-treatment he may report to the Magistrate. Similarly, if a police officer finds a mentally ill person wandering, it is his duty to take him for medical examination and based on such examination by a medical officer he may be sent to a mental health hospital or his home or a shelter for the homeless.
These few key provisions of the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 makes it clear that the act mainly focuses on the rights of the mentally ill people and describes the duty and responsibility the others owe to them. This act is a very well drafted legislation which has improvised one of the most important issues of health that is mental healthcare.
The new Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 is an update to the previous mental healthcare act which focuses more on the mentally ill persons and provides them with rights rather than making them face criminal prosecution or letting them being subjected to inhumanity like the previous version of the act did. This amendment is a good step and if implemented in the right manner, over the course of the upcoming years, it may decrease the number of active or current mentally ill patients in India as many of them would get access to proper treatments and the inhuman treatments of mentally ill people will decrease. Also, this act may be helpful to create awareness that mental illness is not permanent and it can happen to anyone and there is nothing to be ashamed of if one is mentally ill.
References  Adam Felman, What is mental health, MEDICAL NEWS TODAY (Apr. 13, 2020), https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/154543.  National Mental Health Survey of India, 2015-16: Summary, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF MENTAL HEALTH AND NEURO SCIENCES (2016), http://indianmhs.nimhans.ac.in/Docs/Summary.pdf.  Mental Healthcare Act, 2017, No. 10, Acts of Parliament, 2017(India).  Mandira Kala, New Mental Health Bill provisions — and some challenges in their implementation, THE INDIAN EXPRESS (Aug. 10, 2016, 12:06 AM), https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/new-mental-health-bill-provisions-rajya-sabha-2964545/.
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