India’s Upper House, the Rajya Sabha, passes the much-awaited Mental Healthcare Bill, 2013

In 2013, the Mental Healthcare Bill had been introduced in the Parliament in an attempt to replace the Mental Health Act, 1987. In August, 2016, after making 134 amendments to it, the Rajya Sabha finally passed the Bill to ensure protection and promotion of the rights of people with mental ailments during healthcare delivery in the community and in institutions.

The Union Health Minister, JP Nadda, called it a ‘patient-centric’ Bill that ensures the treatment and recovery of people with mental illness without interfering with their rights and dignity. Under the new Bill, every person has the right to access mental healthcare and treatment at healthcare facilities that are run or funded by the government. Everyone has the right to be treated equally with dignity and to be protected from inhuman treatment. Patients now have access to their medical records and free legal services, etc.

The Bill focuses on community based treatment with special provisions made for children and women. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) has been banned on children; if, for medical reasons, it has to be administered to adults, ECT must be given with muscle relaxant and anesthesia.

The Bill allows adults to make an advance directive and choose how they wish to be treated if they have mental illness in future. They can also nominate a representative who will take care of them during their mental illness.

An attempt to commit suicide will no longer be considered as a criminal offence under Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code. Any person attempting to commit suicide will be presumed to be under stress and to be suffering from a mental disease when committing suicide, unless it is proved otherwise.

In a country where 6 to 7 per cent of the population suffer from some kind of mental illness, this Bill is welcome as a ‘humane and reformative’ move by the government.

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