Understanding India’s Mental Healthcare Act, 2017

Why in News?

  • The article discusses the challenges faced in implementing India’s Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 and the need for better mental healthcare services in the country.

Mental Healthcare Act, 2017:

  • The Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 is a comprehensive legislation that provides for the protection and promotion of the rights of people with mental illness. Some of the key features of the Act are:
  • Decriminalization of suicide: The Act decriminalizes suicide and prohibits the use of inhuman and degrading treatment towards those who attempt suicide.
  • Advance directives: The Act allows individuals to make advance directives, specifying the type of treatment they would like to receive in the event of a mental health issue.
  • Informed consent: The Act mandates that patients have the right to give or refuse consent to treatment, and to be informed about the benefits, side effects, and alternatives of the treatment.
  • Mental health review boards: The Act establishes Mental Health Review Boards at the national and state levels to oversee the implementation of the Act and protect the rights of people with mental illness.
  • Prohibition of inhuman treatment: The Act prohibits the use of inhuman treatment methods, including chaining, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) without anaesthesia, and solitary confinement.
  • Right to access mental healthcare: The Act guarantees the right to access mental healthcare services, and mandates the establishment of mental health services in every district.
  • Protection of rights and dignity: The Act aims to protect the rights and dignity of people with mental illness, and prohibits discrimination and stigmatization on the basis of mental illness.
  • Establishment of a Central Mental Health Authority: The Act establishes a Central Mental Health Authority to regulate mental health services in the country.

NHRC flags alert:

  • Pity over healthcare institution: The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in a report flagged the “inhuman and deplorable” condition of all 46 government-run mental healthcare institutions across the country.
  • Prolonged hospitalization: The report notes that the facilities are “illegally” keeping patients long after their recovery, in what is an “infringement of the human rights of mentally ill patients”.
  • Need for Assessment: These observations were made after visits to all operational government facilities, to assess the implementation of the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 (MHA).

Major issue: Lack of implementation:

  • Despite the act’s provisions, mental health institutions in India have been plagued by a lack of adequate infrastructure, staff, and training.
  • Patients have reported human rights violations, including abuse, neglect, and violence.
  • Need for effective implementation
  • The Mental Healthcare Act needs effective implementation and oversight to ensure that patients receive the care and treatment they need with dignity and respect.
  • This requires increased investment in mental health infrastructure, including facilities, staff, and training.

Way forward:

  • Ensuring proper implementation of the Act: There is a need for proper implementation of this act across the country, with a focus on ensuring the rights and dignity of patients in mental healthcare institutions.
  • Increasing awareness: Awareness needs to be raised about the Act, and the rights of mental healthcare patients among the general public, healthcare professionals, and law enforcement agencies.
  • Providing training and capacity building: Healthcare professionals, including doctors, nurses, and caregivers, need to be trained and equipped with the skills and knowledge to provide quality care and support to mental healthcare patients.
  • Strengthening mental healthcare infrastructure: There is a need to strengthen the infrastructure and facilities in mental healthcare institutions, including better staffing, improved physical facilities, and access to quality medication.
  • Encouraging community-based care: Community-based care for mental health patients can help reduce the burden on mental healthcare institutions and provide a more supportive environment for patients.
  • Promoting human rights: There is a need for greater emphasis on the human rights of mental healthcare patients, including the right to dignity, privacy, and freedom from discrimination and abuse.
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