The Mental Healthcare Act, 2017
The Mental Healthcare Act, 2017, which followed The Mental Healthcare Act, 1987, ensures that every person with a ‘mental illness’ has access to mental healthcare services. It guarantees the right to affordable, good quality and geographically accessible mental health services. It says that the central or state governments must provide for or fund these services, which should be accessible irrespective of one’s gender, sex, sexual orientation, religion, culture, caste, social or political beliefs, class or ability. The Act also specifies how the admission, treatment and release of persons (including minors) in mental healthcare establishments should be carried out.
What is ‘mental illness’ according to the Act?
The Act defines ‘mental illness’ as 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…” The definition also includes certain conditions associated with the abuse of alcohol and drugs but does not include ‘mental retardation’.
The Act says that a person’s mental illness is determined based on national or international medical standards accepted by the Government of India. However, a person cannot be classified as mentally ill because he or she has received treatment at a mental health establishment in the past. The Act also says that if a person is mentally ill it does mean that he or she is of ‘unsound mind’, unless a court says so.
Additionally, mental illness cannot be determined by a person’s political, economic or social status, membership in a cultural, racial or religious group, or non-conformity with a community’s moral, social, cultural, work or political values and religious beliefs.
What does the Act say about the right to live with dignity?
The Act says that every person with a mental illness must have the right to live with dignity and be protected from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in a mental health establishment. It also says the person has the right to a hygienic living environment, facilities for education, recreation, and privacy, and cannot be forced into wearing uniforms or shaving his or head heads. If the person ends up working in a mental health establishment, he or she cannot be forced to do this work and must be remunerated for it. The person also has the right to be protected from all forms of physical, verbal, emotional and sexual abuse.
What other rights does a person with mental illness have?
A person with a mental illness has the right to know under which provision of this Act he or she has been admitted into a mental health establishment. He or she also has the right to know the nature of his or her illness, his or her treatment plan and its side effects, if any. This information must be provided to the person in a language and form that he or she can understand. The person can also have his or her admission into a mental health establishment reviewed by the district’s Mental Health Review Board, whose formation is mandated by the Act.
What does the Act say about maintaining confidentiality?
A person with a mental illness has the right to confidentiality with respect to his or her mental or physical healthcare and treatment. Health professionals must keep the person’s information confidential, unless there is a threat to public safety or life, or the Mental Health Review Board, High Court or Supreme Court or any other statutory authority asks for the information.
What must the government do to increase awareness about mental health?
The Act says that its provisions must be widely publicised through the media, and the government must promote mental health programmes and try to reduce the stigma around mental illness. It also says that government officials must be sensitised periodically through training programmes, and they must address the human resource requirements of mental health services.
What does the Act say about attempted suicide?
Even though Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) makes attempted suicide a punishable offence, Section 115 of this Act says that a person who attempts suicide will not be tried and punished under the IPC. The Act says that the person attempting suicide shall be presumed to be under severe stress (unless proved otherwise). Further, the government must provide care, treatment and rehabilitation for the person in order to reduce the risk of another suicide attempt.
Focus and Factoids by Nioshi Shah.
Ministry of Law and Justice
Government of India, New Delhi
07 Apr, 2017