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New Mental Health Bill bans electric shocks

New Mental Health Bill bans electric shocks
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The right of mentally-ill patients to decide their mode of treatment, decriminalising suicide for them and a ban on electric shock treatment without...

The right of mentally-ill patients to decide their mode of treatment, decriminalising suicide for them and a ban on electric shock treatment without anaesthesia are some of the progressive provisions of the new Mental Health Bill proposed by the Government. "The Bill was approved by the Union Cabinet last week," Health Secretary K. Desiraju told IANS. Once passed by parliament, it will repeal the Mental Health Act, 1987.

If passed, it will make access to mental healthcare a right for all. Also, such services would be affordable, of good quality and available without discrimination. An estimated 10-12 million, or one to two per cent of the population, suffers from severe mental disorders, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and nearly 50 million or five percent from common mental disorders such as depression and anxiety, yielding an overall estimate of 6.5 percent of the population.

Keeping in mind the rising number of people suffering from mental ailments, the Bill aims at introducing progressive and far-sighted steps for patients, a senior health official told IANS. "If a person has given an advance directive to the State that he or she should not be admitted to a facility without consent, it will be heeded," the official said.

This was proposed keeping in mind that a person can be branded mentally ill by family members in property or marital disputes. The official said the 1987 Act had vested extraordinary powers in psychiatrists. The Bill now states that an individual can himself or herself take a call on the treatment. Psychiatrists, however, feel that giving powers to a mentally-ill patient to decide on the course of treatment would put him at risk.

"A patient in a psychotic phase or a mentally-ill person doesn't have the judgmental capacity to decide what is good or bad for him or her. So trusting that person to make the correct choice in such circumstances might be risky," Samir Malhotra, head of the Department of Psychiatry at the Max hospitals, told IANS. He added that the Bill would significantly reduce the powers of doctors in deciding the patients' well-being. It also provides the right to confidentiality and protection from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, in addition to the right to live in a community.

Legal aid will also be extended to them. It bans the electric-convulsive therapy or the electric shock treatment without anaesthesia and restricts psychosurgery. The government has an obligation to provide halfway homes, community caring centres and other shelters for mentally-ill people. Halfway homes, common in the Western world, are for those patients who have recovered but need 24-hour monitoring and rehabilitation.

It also envisages a mental health review commission, which will review all admissions in mental health institutions beyond 30 days. It would be a quasi-judicial body to oversee the functioning of mental health facilities and protect the rights of persons with mental illness in these facilities. The bill also proposes to provide free care to all homeless, destitute and poor people suffering from mental disorders. Trying to address the needs of the families, caregivers and those of homeless mentally ill people, the new legislation provides for setting up of Central and State mental health authorities, which would act as administrative bodies.

The Bill decriminalises suicide for mentally ill patients. Reacting to this provision, Malhotra said: "In certain circumstances it can help, as police action is sometimes cumbersome, but it can also not be denied that criminalising suicide had acted as a deterrent in some cases".Under the Indian Penal Code, suicide is a criminal act and a person can be jailed for at least one to three years.

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