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A historic, progressive Bill

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A historic, progressive Bill
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The Lok Sabha has unanimously passed the Mental Healthcare Bill 2016 which was earlier passed by the Rajya Sabha last year, after a five-hour long discussion.

It would possibly resolve the humanitarian issues of the mentally ill persons, the most neglected and humiliated section of the society. A remarkable feature of the Bill is that it decriminalizes the attempt to suicide. The concept that suicide is not a crime but a mental ailment that requires medical treatment, forms the basis of the law amendment. Given that the modern health science researches have proven the fact, the truth is that such a legislature should have been mooted earlier. Union Health Minister JP Nadda during the discussions in the House said that according to the estimates in 2010, the suicide rate in the country due to mental illnesses was 7 per cent, while it has been reduced to 5.4 per cent in 2014. However, he pointed out that the number of suicides due to poor mental health was 7000. Thousands of unreported suicides should also be taken into account.

Life is the Almighty’s greatest gift to mankind. All the religious texts emphasize that nobody has the right to take it on his or her own. Although suicide rates are on a hike due to several reasons like poverty, debts, calling off marriage, issues in marriage, dowry, extra marital affairs, infertility, lethal diseases and addiction to drugs, many find solace in taking their lives when their lose their mental balance. Some might have a natural tendency to attempt suicide. The society should be creating a favourable atmosphere for them to return to their normal lives and live a life with dignity. That this reality which easily grips any mind with common sense, has been recognized only now is a shame for a civilized society. Although late, the government and the Parliament finally acknowledging the reality is certainly a relief. The Bill recognizes the rights of mentally ill people to affordable treatment and healthcare services ‘in a manner that does not intrude on their rights and dignity’.

Electric shock therapy is one of them. The Mental Healthcare Bill bans the use of electric shock therapy on children with mental illness. Even in adults, it must be given only if no other treatments are effective, that too under anesthesia and with muscle relaxants. Mothers suffering from mental illnesses shouldn’t be separated from their children below three years old, unless absolutely necessary. Those who are unable to make decisions should be admitted to mental hospitals only with the permission of other family members. Many are dubbed as mentally ill, chained and forced into the worst mental hospitals and centers, and abandoned there in pathetic conditions. Just imagine our heartlessness! There are also provisions for protection of such persons from inhumane treatment, access to legal services, their medical records, and the right to complain regarding deficiencies in provisions.

The Bill also suggests forming Central and State Mental Health Authorities and Review Commissions. The Health Minister has also made clear that there are provisions for the right to property as well as protection of property of those suffering from mental illnesses. This above provision is highly relevant in the present times when the number of those who abandon their aged parents labelling them as mentally ill for seizing their property or to avoid property dealings, are increasing in number. However comprehensive and flawless the law is, the desired goal will be accomplished only if the government possess the determination and compassion to implement it properly. The attitude of the society particularly the family members and relatives towards these hapless persons is equally important. Things would remain unchanged as long as they are not considered as citizens who have equal rights to a life with dignity.

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