Mental health issues are not new in India and with the increasing pace of life, work pressure and lifestyle changes, many people are falling prey to mental illnesses. The increase in the number of mental illness cases is a rising concern for society, as mental disease means loss of productivity and income.
Mental diseases are of different types like autism and intellectual disability in childhood, post partum depression, depression, anxiety, substance abuse and psychosis in adulthood to dementia in old age. When put together, mental health disorders account for 15% of the total global burden.
According to a survey conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO), India has the largest number of people, suffering from one or the other form of mental illness. This is true as most often people with mental disorders cannot express their problems at an early stage and want to hide rather than seek professional help. This is because mental disease is still a taboo and is rarely discussed. Most of the Indian population lacks proper awareness on the symptoms of mental disease and in some places; mental disease is not even taken seriously. It would not be an exaggeration to say that India due to lack of proper awareness, is staring at a mental health epidemic.
It is important to understand how society and the health institutions at large, deal with mental health issues in India. Lack of awareness on the issue, the stigma associated with it, lack of trained professionals, inadequate funding and the low priority given in the healthcare budget are the reasons why people coping with mental health issues, fail to receive timely treatment. If just policy making helped people, the issues of mental health would have been solved long ago.
To make positive changes in society, the government and the NGO’s working towards mental health must create awareness through advertisements and workshops. Interventions are in the form of medicine, psychological and social help, which can make a huge difference to scores of people in India. More than 80% of people in India do not seek professional help, for mental health issues. There is a shortage of professional and trained mental healthcare workers in India.
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In India the Mental Healthcare Act was passed on 7th April 2017 and was implemented on 29th May 2018. The law was described in the opening paragraph as “an Act to provide mental healthcare and services for persons with mental illness and to protect, promote and fulfill the rights of such persons during delivery of metal health care services and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto”. This Act is a revision of the existing Mental Health Act of 1987.
There are certain provisions in the Previous Act, which are discontinued or revised in the current Act. This Act aims at decriminalising suicide, aims to safeguard the rights of people with mental illnesses and seeks to fulfil international obligations on the rights of a person. The act restricts the usage of Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) and prohibits its usage on minors.
It also outlines guidelines on responsibilities for agencies like the Police towards people with mental diseases and has additionally vouched to tackle the stigma associated with mental illness and planned reforms and measures through which they can achieve the same.
Given below are some of the basic healthcare facilities that must be offered to people with mental illnesses, so as to provide proper diagnosis and preventive measures at early stages of mental illnesses.
You have the right to access mental health care and treatment from mental health care services, which are funded by the Government as per the new law. People cannot be discriminated on the basis of caste, religion or economic condition.
Anyone living with a mental condition in India now has the right to access good quality affordable health care facilities in hospitals across the country. The act states that the doctors and hospital staff must not discriminate on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, religion, culture, caste, social and political beliefs, class, disability and so on. People who are victimized have the right to approach courts to make sure that their rights are protected.
There are provisions for those who cannot afford such treatment. The government provides quality treatment free of cost. According to the surveys, the bill has been framed keeping in mind all sections of society and the rights of citizens. The positive features of the act are, it states that people have access to mental healthcare facilities and this is a basic right of every citizen of the country.
People living with mental issues must be given the right to make proper decisions regarding their health and treatment, if they can understand the information related to the treatment and its consequences and can communicate their problems.
There has been rampant misuse of some of these provisions. Earlier, in Indian society, young brides or aged people were forcibly admitted to mental institutions due to various reasons like dowry harassment or domestic abuse.
However, when the person has the power to make right decisions, then no one can force him/her to get admitted to hospitals if they understand what is happening to them.
The new law mandates that if you are living with some kind of mental illness and you are aware of it, then you will have the right to know the nature of your illness along with the nature of treatment and the side effects.
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Many a time, people with mental issues are locked up in rooms and are segregated from society. Once a person is diagnosed with the slightest of mental problems, society and the people at large behave oddly towards him. Instead of supporting the patient, he/she is put through ordeals like bullying, segregation or neglect which makes it more difficult for the patient to recover.
So, the government must make legal provisions and provide other necessary forms of support, to help these patients lead a normal life. People with mental ailments have the right to live in a community and they cannot be discriminated against or segregated from society. A woman with mental issues cannot be separated from her child who is less than 3 years old, even if she is admitted for treatment unless the doctors say so.
The people undergoing treatment for mental illnesses enjoy the right to confidentiality. The laws must be strict and offer proper norms for maintaining confidentiality. Any person cannot be forced to divulge details on their illness or the treatments or procedures they are going through.
The right to confidentiality must also include the doctors responsible for treating these patients. They must refrain from leaking patient details to the public or even their own relatives, without the consent of the patient. There must be additional laws prohibiting the media from publishing any information without the individual’s consent.
Right to confidentiality has been implemented and is in operation for diseases like HIV/AIDS where the tests are carried out in secrecy. The hospital staff and the lab assistants are not privy to names and personal details of patients. So, implementing this Act for mental health issues will not be very difficult, as the practice already prevails in most of the healthcare institutions.
Suicide is no longer treated as a criminal offence. People who try to commit suicide will not be considered to be under severe stress according to the law. The Mental Healthcare Act 2017 aims to tackle the stigma of mental illness, by implementing policies and proper measures and create social awareness to ensure that the people who attempt suicide due to failing mental health or societal pressure are offered opportunities for rehabilitation from the government as opposed to being tried or punished for such acts.
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