[op-ed snap] Mental Healthcare Act: A paradigm shift

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Mains Paper 2: Governance | Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Particulars of the act

Mains level: Particulars, uniqueness and importance of the act. The act is first-of-its kind in India.


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Why is the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 important and unique?

  1. For the first time in our country, the Act creates a justiciable right to mental healthcare
  2. This is fascinating because physical healthcare is not yet a statutory right
  3. The law also requires the government to make provisions for persons with mental illness to live in the community and not be segregated in large institutions
  4. It has also effectively decriminalized suicide attempts by ‘reading down’ the power of section 309 of the Indian Penal Code

Provisions for ‘advance directives’ in the act

  1. There are times when persons with mental illness are unable to express or communicate their preference for treatment to their treating psychiatrists
  2. Therefore, the new Act makes provision for writing an advance directive which people can make when they are well
  3. Through such advance directives, people nominate a person who could take decisions on their behalf in such situations
  4. This kind of provision has been made for the first time in healthcare legislation in India

Rights conferred under the act

  1. The Act provides persons with mental illness protection from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment
  2. It also provides right to information about their illness and treatment, right to confidentiality of their medical condition and right to access their medical records, to list just a few rights

Responsibilities for the government

  1. Under the act, the government is explicitly made responsible for setting up programmes for the promotion of mental health, prevention of mental illness and suicide prevention programmes
  2. Given the huge shortage of trained mental health professionals in the country, the Act requires the government to meet internationally accepted norms for the number of mental health professionals
    (within 10 years of passing this law)

Issues that should be taken care of

  1. Passing the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017, is the start of a long, arduous implementation process
  2. There are many examples of progressive policies and legislation in India which do not get effectively implemented
  3. We should ensure that this Act does not suffer the same fate
  4. Once again, we need cross-party support for effective implementation so that persons with mental illness and their families benefit fully
Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.
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