By Ananya Dash
The author is a first-year law student at National Law University Odisha.
Eleven members of a family in the Burari neighbourhood of Delhi were found mysteriously dead on the morning of 1st July 2018.
The news sent shockwaves across the nation but what followed was sensationalism by media and a lack of meaningful discourse around this bizarre incident.
The recent docuseries on Netflix, House of secrets: Burari Deaths directed by Leena Yadav tries to shed much needed light on the probable causes and the aftermath of this incident.
One of the primary themes in the series was mental health and its stigmatisation within Indian Society. This article shall try to provide the reader with an insight into what the Indian Law says on Mental Health, Illness and shall analyse the need for further legislation on the same.
The Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 received the assent of the president on 7th April 2017. The intent behind introducing the said act was to provide mental healthcare, protect and fulfil the rights of the people seeking help for mental illness. It replaced the earlier existing Mental Healthcare Act of 1987.
Definitions: Mental Illness and Mental Healthcare
Mental Illness– It is defined as a “substantial disorder of thinking, mood, perception or orientation that grossly impairs judgment or capacity to recognize reality or fulfill ordinary demands of life. It includes mental conditions associated with drug abuse or alcohol”.
Mental Healthcare-It includes analysis and diagnosis of a person’s mental condition, subsequent treatment and rehabilitation required as per the diagnosis of an illness.
Rights of the persons with mental illness
The act enlists certain rights that shall be guaranteed to people with mental illness. Every person with any mental illness shall have the right to live with dignity and privacy, rights that have been recognised as fundamental rights under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.
Advance Directive- Section 5 of the act states that a person with mental illness will have a say in the course of the treatment and he/she can make an advance directive regarding the same. It shall contain details about how the treatment shall proceed and other requisites.
This provision is a significant departure from the Mental Healthcare Act, 1987 because the act intends to empower persons with mental illness.
Attempt to Suicide as an Offence
Section 115 of the act states that any person who attempts to commit suicide shall be presumed to be under severe stress unless proven otherwise. This reduces the scope of Section 309 of the IPC, which penalizes attempt to suicide.
This is a welcome step since, it allows suicide to be viewed as a psychological problem and does not restrict it to the narrow definition of a criminal offense, except under certain circumstances. The recognition can further the cause of destigmatizing mental health and illness.
Concerns and Suggestions
The Mental Health Care Act, 2017 is indeed a positive step towards destigmatizing mental health but there are certain shortcomings that need to be addressed.
The lack of adequate medical infrastructure and professionals can slow down the implementation process of the said act. Therefore, a steady flow of funds and support should be ensured by central and state governments to improve the existing infrastructure.
The Act recognizes Mental Health majorly as a clinical problem that can be treated only by medicines and clinical procedures. The issue of prevention and promotion of mental well-being has been sidelined.
A lot of experts were of the opinion that the definition of ‘Mental Health Professional’ as mentioned in Section 2(r) of the act should be expanded to include psychotherapists, psychoanalysts, and counselors under its ambit.
The Pandemic has worsened the already existing crisis of mental health in the country. In the present conditions, the speedy implementation of the said act can ensure certain protections to persons with mental illness and reinforce the significance of mental health. More regulatory frameworks that deal with mental illness and aim to promote mental well-being are welcomed.