Opinion: Mental Health Care Bill

Being a psychologist in India is difficult, the laws are outdated and patient care is barely patient-centric. Many individuals with mental illness shun away from treatment because they fear for themselves, it is not always about people knowing they have a mental illness but the fearful image of possibly be given an ECT, confined to a hospital, or their treatment left in the hands of an often uninformed and sometimes abusive relative.

It seemed absurd, for me, to live in a country that penalized those who committed suicide, did they not understand that situations and one’s mental state led them to that ill faithed moment. Criminalizing the act of suicide never solved any problems, it just added more.

For years, and we still continue to shout, mental illness is real; depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and bipolar are all real disorders and need proper treatment. Treatment does not entail being locked in a room, or chained to a bed. Treatment entails dignified care, respect for those suffering, and of course the needed psychotherapy and medication.

Finally, our country gets it. Mental Illness is real – and things need to be done to take care and protect those with mental illness. The Mental Health Care Bill, finally passed, introduced some landmark, and much-needed changes to the way India treats Indians with mental illness.

It is reassuring to know that the bill gives way to the Mental Health Authority and Mental Health Review Commission. Thus ensuring every mental health establishment has to be registered with the state and central Mental Health Authority. Thereby safeguarding the interest of the individual, making every establishment responsible for the fair, dignified, and proper treatment to individuals with mental illness by “registered mental health professionals”. Knowing that inhumane treatment of individuals is no longer a real fear is comforting.

The advance directive introduced by the bill takes on a much needed patient-centric approach they no longer have to live in fear of leaving their treatment plan in the hands of their unknowing relatives. Here they finally have a say in their own life! This will enable a lot of individuals with mental illness to trust the treatment plan ensuring they get the treatment they need.

Lastly, decriminalizing suicide and ensuring that an individual who attempts suicide is given the right mental health care has finally come through. Now the emotional cause of the suicide is addressed and not punished.

What the bill does, in my opinion, takes away the fear of being an individual with mental illness in India. It tells us, as Indians, that our country is here to protect us even when everything else fails. This bill is important not only cause of the laws that come into action. But it helps change the way our country thinks about mental illness, it helps us as a society accept and not discriminate those with mental illness.

The bill lays a utopian vision of mental health care in India that hopefully will become reality before the next 30 years.

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