On 7 April 2017, the Indian parliament passed the landmark legislation as it passed the Mental Health Care Act, India (2017). The bill is an upgrade on the previous Mental Health Care Act, 1987 which removed a whole lot of draconian laws which existed at the time but still left a lot to be desired.
Mental Health Care Act, 1987.
There were some major problems in the MHCA, 1987. It mostly dealt with how the administration is supposed to deal with a mentally ill patient instead of making sure that they get the best health care possible. It dealt with the procedure to be followed to get them admitted, the people who will be allowed to meet the admitted patients and on what grounds they can be discharged. The Act of 1987 very briefly talked about the rights a mentally ill patient enjoys. It prescribed that no human rights can be violated while treating a patient.
Mental Health Care Act, 2017.
Compared to its previous iteration, The MHCA, 2017 is more comprehensive and specific. It gives the central and state governments the authority to form a Mental Health Authority Board at both levels. The more encouraging point is that it has space for 2 people who have previously suffered from mental illness. The board also must have 2 mental health professionals and psychologists. It is hence clear why this Act is seen as a breath of fresh air for the stagnating and perilous mental healthcare situation that currently prevails in the nation.
It also decriminalizes suicide. This is so that the victim can focus on treatment and rehabilitation rather than being tried in the court of law. It also lists out all the rights that a mentally ill patient has and who can make decisions for them, if needed. Another major step taken in this act is to ensure that Electro Convulsive Therapy (ECT) can only be used under anesthetics. Moreover it is not advised for minors. The Act also lists out the responsibilities of the government and police officers in treatment of homeless mentally ill patients.It decrees that treatment of people below the poverty line shall be carried out free of cost at all public health care centers.
Now that we have the legislation, the next step is to ensure enforcement. It is something India often struggles with but with the detailed and comprehensive Act to fall back on, one can dare to be slightly optimistic about the future of mental health in India. We can move forward although we still have a long way to go.