Mental Health Bill 2016, Decriminalizing Suicide

‘Mental Healthcare Bill 2016’ states that a person who attempts suicide shall be presumed to be suffering from mental illness and ‘Severe Stress’ at that time and will not be punished ‘Notwithstanding anything Under Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code’.


Introduction: 

Lok Sabha on March 27, 2017 passed the ‘Mental Healthcare Bill 2016’ (hereinafter referred to as the bill) which decriminalized suicide; and hence suicide would no longer be an offense in the eyes
of the law after the bill becomes an Act. The bill also aims to provide better healthcare services for people suffering from mental illness. Rajya Sabha had already passed this bill on August 08, 2016 with 134 official amendments. The bill will be termed as “Mental Healthcare Act, 2017” once the bill gets assent from the President of India. 29 Lok Sabha members participated in the discussion on the bill. All the amendments moved by the opposition members in the Lok Sabha were defeated and the bill was passed unanimously by the Lok Sabha by a Voice Vote. The new Act will replace “THE MENTAL HEALTH ACT, 1987” passed on May 22, 1987.

Salient Features/Provisions of the Bill: 

The bill contains the following salient features/provisions:

  • The bill decriminalizes attempt to suicide. 
  • The bill aims to provide better humane mental healthcare services for persons with mental illness. 
  • The bill has a provision to protect, promote, fulfil and restore the property rights of the mentally-sick people during their treatment. 
  • The bill ensures that every mentally ill person shall have the “Legal Right” to access mental health care and treatment from mental health services run or funded by the Central Government and/or the concerned State Government; and it will be the Government's “Duty” to provide care, treatment, rehabilitation and assistance to such a person, suffering from deep depression and severe stress and who attempted to commit suicide, so as to “Reduce the Risk of Recurrence” of any such attempt in future. 
  • Mentally ill person, through a representative nominated by him/her would become eligible to express how he/she wants to be treated for the mental illness. 
  • The bill focuses on community-based treatment unlike the earlier “THE MENTAL HEALTH ACT, 1987” which focused on institutionalized treatment. 
  • The bill also assures “Free” treatment for a mentally sick person in case he/she is homeless or poor, even if he/she may not be having the “Below Poverty Line Card.” 
  • The person with mental illness will have the “Right to Confidentiality” in respect of his/her mental health, mental healthcare, mental treatment and physical healthcare so that his/her dignity is not intruded. 
  • A person with mental illness shall not be given “Electro-Convulsive Therapy” without the use of muscle relaxants and anaesthesia and this therapy will not be performed on minors. 
  • Mentally sick persons shall not be chained in any manner or form whatsoever may be the circumstances. Physical restraint, if necessary, may only be used. 
  • A person with mental illness shall not be subjected to seclusion or solitary confinement. 
  • The bill proclaims the Union Government to establish Central Mental Health Authority at National Level and ask and assist the State Governments to establish State Mental Health Authority in every state. 
  • All mental healthcare centres and mental health practitioners including clinical psychologists, mental health nurses and psychiatric social workers will have to get themselves registered with the Central/State Mental Health Authority. 
  • The bill provides for special treatment for the mentally ill women. 
  • A child under the age of three years will not be separated from his/her mother, if the mother is receiving care, treatment or rehabilitation at any mental health care center. 
  • The bill stipulates Monetary Penalty and Imprisonment in case of violation of the provisions of the bill by any mental healthcare centre/mental health practitioner including mental clinical psychologist/mental health nurse and psychiatric. 

Law of Suicides So Far: 

Those who survived after their unsuccessful attempts were charged under Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code making them subject to harassment by the police officials. Rather, there should have been the offer of counseling and treatment for depression that is generally linked to suicide. Many help groups however have been offering assistance through hotlines for assisting the people with the suicidal ideas.

Data of Persons who killed themselves: 

According to estimates from the World Health Organisation (WHO), over 800,000 people die worldwide due to suicides every year - of these 135,000 (17%) are residents of India, a nation with 17.5% of world’s population.

Response towards the Bill: 

Union Health Minister J P Nadda described the legislation as progressive and patient-centric. In his words, “This bill is a huge step towards the betterment of people with mental health issues.” Psychological experts have also widely welcomed the move calling it “a major change”. “The Institute welcomes the new mental health care bill that makes a paradigm shift in how people with mental disorders are treated in the country. It recognises the role of a community-based patient-centric approach and decriminalizes suicide,” said Pallab Maulik, Deputy Director George Institute for Global Health (GIGH), India. WHO has made “Depression – Let’s Talk” the theme of this year’s World Health Day falling on April 07, 2017. The passage of the Bill can be termed as a “Landmark” contribution by India in this regard, according to Shipra Dawar, Founder and CEO, ePsyclinic.

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