The Union Ministry for Health and Family Welfare has notified the new Mental Healthcare Act 2017, a year after it was passed. The Act decriminalises a suicide attempt by someone, looking at it as a manifestation of the person’s mental illness, and recommends treatment of the patient.

“Every person with mental illness shall have a right to live with dignity…,” says the Act as it tries to bring the mentally ill at par with the physically ill in terms of provision of healthcare services.

The Act seeks to fulfill India’s obligation to harmonise its laws with the Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol, ensuring the right of mentally ill to be a part of and not be segregated from the society.

Let’s take a look at 10 facts about the Mental Healthcare Act 2017, which aims to transform the mental healthcare regime in the country.

  1. Attempting suicide is now no longer a crime in India, as the new Act says any person who attempts to commit suicide “shall be presumed, unless proved otherwise, to have severe stress”, and won’t be tried and punished under the existing Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code.
  2. There will be no more electric shocks for mentally ill children.
  3. The Act also bans electric shocks for adults with mental illness without the use of muscle relaxants and anaesthesia.
  4. The government will be duty bound to provide care, treatment and rehabilitation to the person who attempts suicide, so that he or she doesn’t make such an attempt in future.
  5. The Mental Healthcare Act 2017 replaces the Mental Health Act 1987.
  6. It prohibits tying mentally ill persons with chains.
  7. Sterilisation of men and women as a treatment for mental illness is prohibited too.
  8. Treatment and rehabilitation cost for persons with mental illness living below the poverty line, even without the possession of a BPL card, or those who are homeless would be free of any charge at all mental health establishments run or funded by the government.
  9. Act says there shall be no discrimination on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, religion, culture, caste, social or political beliefs, class or disability.  Anyone with mental illness will not continue to remain in a mental health establishment merely because the person does not have a family or a home, or not accepted by family.
  10. The Act also outlines the responsibilities of other agencies such as the police with respect to people with mental illness.

The notification has been widely welcomed, with the expectation that it will increase conversation about mental healthcare and help remove the stigma associated with mental illness.

(With agency inputs)