The Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 (MHCA 2017) of India (Mental Health Law in India)

The Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 (MHCA 2017) of India (Mental Health Law in India)

The Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 is landmark legislation in India and the first step towards ensuring a ‘Right to Access to Mental Healthcare’ law in the near future. It consists of important provisions that empower a persons with mental illness in India based on different parameters;

A). Rights of the MIP are respected; The act gives the persons with mental illness an advance directive of forming a will and nominating a relative or well-wisher to act on behalf of the patient when the patient him/herself is incapable to do so. The act also gives the MIP the right to confidentiality of medical records, right to information about illness and treatment and protection from any discrimination whatsoever.

B). Provision of various services: The act requires that the Govt. to make rehabilitation homes, sanatoriums, care homes and other group therapy associations for persons with mental illness. The govt. will also have to ensure that medical professionals are trained as per world class standards within 10 years of passing the law. Awareness programmes pertaining to medical and familial care of persons with mental illness, prevention of mental illnesses and suicide prevention methods too will have to be promoted by the govt. to ensure that the general populace is aware of the issue at hand.

However. the new act is heavily influenced by the western model of mental healthcare. It is based on a rights framework, and gives the individual total autonomy over themselves. This means that I may be suffering but refuse to get treated because the law allows me to do so.

There is no health without mental health. Recently conducted National Mental Health Survey quoted prevalence of 13.7% lifetime and 10.6% current mental morbidity. To address this mammoth problem, an aspirational law was enacted titled “Mental Healthcare Act, 2017” (MHCA 2017). The act is progressive and rights-based in nature. The preamble of MHCA 2017 promises to provide mental healthcare and services for persons with mental illness (PMI) and to protect, promote, and fulfill the rights of such persons during the delivery of mental healthcare and services. The whole dedicated Chapter 5 on “Rights of the person with mental illness” is the heart and soul of this legislation. The heart and soul of this legislation are in Chapter 5 which safeguards the patients’ right to access a range of mental healthcare facilities (such as inpatient and outpatient services; rehabilitation services in the hospital, community, and home; halfway homes; sheltered accommodation; and supported accommodation). If the services are not available, PMI is entitled to compensation from the state. Right to community living, right to confidentiality, right to access medical records, right to protection from cruelty and inhumane treatment and right to equality and nondiscrimination are all ensured by the law. The act seeks to ensure that mental healthcare facilities are available to all. Those below the poverty line, whether in possession of BPL (below poverty line) card or not, the destitute, and the homeless will be entitled to free mental health treatment. The act provides the right to confidentiality and protection from cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment, in addition to the right to live in a community and avail free legal aid. It bans electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) without anesthesia and any type of ECT to children and restricts psychosurgery. The need of the hour is a law that can be implemented in practice and can cater to the health needs at all levels of prevention (primary, secondary, and tertiary) while also protecting the rights of the family, professionals, and end-users.

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