Updated: Dec 11, 2020
Author- Harshita Saxena*
Editor- Shuvasmita Nanda
Many people in modern India are suffering from mental disorders. Despite this, we have failed in facilitating such patients. There has not been much attention paid to mental health care in India in comparison to other countries. Most of the people here are unaware or mindfully disregard the various mental disorders. This ignorance requires people to be fully informed about mental health and understand that, similar to physical, mental health also matters.
In its favor, our government took the initiative to introduce the Mental Healthcare Act on 7 April 2017. This act was implemented on 29 May 2018, and it replaced the former Mental Health Act of 1987. The new Act could be considerably termed as a ray of hope for those suffering from mental health problems. The mentioned Act defines "mental illness" as a substantial disorder of thinking, mood, perception, orientation, or memory that grossly impairs judgment or ability to meet the ordinary demands of life, mental conditions associated with the abuse of alcohol and drugs." 
CHARACTERISTICS OF MENTAL HEALTHCARE ACT, 2017 
This act has been introduced to facilitate people with mental illness. It was described as "An Act to provide for mental healthcare and services for persons with mental illness and to protect, promote and fulfill the rights of such persons during delivery of mental healthcare and services and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto."  Hence, it has many features. Some of them are:
- TO DECRIMINALIZE THE ACT OF ATTEMPTING SUICIDE,MAIN PURPOSE OF THE ACT
Section 309 of IPC criminalizes suicide attempt with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to 1 year or fine or both . The most important thing this act has done is the decriminalization of a suicide attempt. It says that if an individual attempting suicide is suffering from mental stress or depression, he/she should be offered rehabilitation opportunities despite being punished. It is the government's responsibility to ensure the examination of such an individual and provide rehabilitation facilities.
- ESTABLISHMENT OF HEALTH INSTITUTIONS
This act has laid down some guidelines for setting up institutions related to mental health. These institutions ensure that everyone in the country can get proper treatment facilities for curing their mental diseases. This act has also helped establish a mental health review board to act as a regulatory body. It will help in the regulation of such institutions all over the country.
- RIGHTS OF PMI (PERSONS WITH MENTAL ILLNESS)
This act is an important job to empower people who have mental illness. Now, PMI can take their health-related decisions on their own if they have proper knowledge of it. They can decide where to take the treatment and appoint someone to make decisions on behalf of them.
PMI can not be discriminated against on any ground like religion, sex, caste, etc., and are entitled to get proper treatment and healthcare by the government to cure their diseases.
All poor people who can not afford mental health care and treatment have access to free treatment services.
Medical insurance has been extended to mental diseases, so insurers are bound to follow the same insurance procedure for mental illness as for other physical diseases.
This act also ensures confidentiality to the patient. The conversation between the doctor and the patient is kept confidential and can not be disclosed to anyone. Still, these details can be revealed to the doctors and guardians of the patient for treatment purposes.
Furthermore, the patients, specifically minors, can not be treated with Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and muscle relaxants, and anesthesia. Under this act, usage of such procedures is prohibited for minors.
- RESPONSIBILITY OF OTHER AGENCIES
This act has also defined other agencies' duties like police, government, and other organizations concerning mental illness. This act has properly specified the responsibilities of the government and the Central Mental Health Authority. It has also set some guidelines for dealing with the stereotypes related to mental diseases and provide a better environment for people suffering from such diseases.
ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF THIS ACT
This Act has paid special attention to underprivileged people by providing free mental healthcare services to them. It has also empowered the people by stating that they can not be discriminated against on any ground and treated with the other patients equally.
The Act gives people the right not to be treated by any prohibited treatment that can be life-threatening to them. That is why it has prohibited ECT for minors.
This Act has tried to eradicate the stigma attached to mental health diseases in society by defining the guidelines for obtaining the same.
This act does not define how a patient can make a nominee who can take decisions on behalf of him/her. It is unclear about its procedure.
As per the act, a patient, if knowledgeable enough of the disease, can take any health-related decision on his/her own. But, it has not set any guidelines stating what knowledge will be considered enough. The act is unable to provide whole information about the treatment options to the patients.
As of now, we still see the lacking medical facilities provided specifically to Persons with Mental Illness. It means that this act has failed in creating a better environment for such patients. That's why the proper implementation of this act is yet to be questioned.
In a nutshell, the Mental Health Care Act, 2017 has proved successful in various ways. It is an appreciable initiative in the field of mental healthcare. It has been inculcated with numerous policies for mental illness persons and has tried to become a better solution. However, as everything has room for improvement, MCHA can be reintroduced with some changes that seem necessary. With strict implementation plans, everyone must follow them.
According to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO), 7.5 percent of the Indian population suffers from some form of mental disorder . However, due to a lack of awareness about mental health, people ignore it. As a countermeasure of this problem, the government can educate people through various social infotainment programs by which people get introduced to some complicated terminology of mental diseases.
Although several policies have been introduced in this field yet, such policies' basic infrastructure is so insufficient that it does not cover the people of all sections of society. For example, if a patient gets diagnosed with a mental disease, the guardians in most circumstances are bound to leave the treatment process midway due to heavy medical expenses. Hence, It is necessary to arrange everything systematically and efficiently to benefit from such schemes. The government needs to pay proper attention to implementing the policies and punishing those who do not follow them.
1.Express Web Desk, "What is Mental Healthcare Bill", The Indian Express, (March 28, 2017, 8:12:39 AM)
2.Raj Krishna and Snehil, "The Mental HealthcareAct 2017: A Critical Analysis", AAWAZ- The Blog, (March 8, 2020)
3."The Mental Health Care Act, 2017" (PDF), Government of India, (April 7, 2017)
4.Section 309 of The Indian Penal Code
5.Neerja Birla, "Mental health in India: 7.5% of country affected; less than 4,000 experts available", The Economic Times, (Oct 10, 2019, 10:29 AM)
The Author is a 2nd year B.A.LLB (Hons) student at Jiwaji University Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh
Disclaimer: The opinions and views in this article are personal and independent opinions of the author. VAIDHA doesn't hold any liability arising out of this article.