Attempting suicide is no longer a crime in India.
A year after the Mental Healthcare Act was passed by Parliament, India’s health ministry has notified that people attempting suicide will no longer be criminally prosecuted.
The law bans subjecting mentally ill children to electric shock therapy, and has directed that adults be administered such treatment under anaesthesia. The new law also allows people to specify the mode of treatment in advance if diagnosed with a mental illness in the future.
The law was notified after seven months of deliberations by a special committee. Around 6 per cent to 7 per cent of Indians suffer from some kind of mental illness, of which 1 per cent to 2 per cent are severe cases.
The Act states that “any person who attempts to commit suicide shall be presumed, unless proved otherwise, to have severe stress and shall not be tried and punished under the said (penal) code”.
The onus will be on the government to provide care, treatment and rehabilitation to reduce the risk of a repeat suicide attempt.
“Every person with mental illness shall have a right to live with dignity… There shall be no discrimination on any basis including gender, sex, sexual orientation, religion, culture, caste, social or political beliefs, class or disability,” says the Act.
The 2017 Act replaced the Mental Health Act of 1987 and aims to make Indian laws congruent with the Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, about 130,000 people commit suicide in India every year. For every 100,000 Indian men, there is an average of 26.3 suicides.
According to an IndiaSpend report, 15 suicides are committed every hour.
India’s mental healthcare programs received just 0.07 per cent of the healthcare budget for 2017-18 fiscal year.
In view of the mental health issues pervading India, the government recently approved the establishment of a National Institute of Mental Health Rehabilitation (NIMHR) in the central state of Madhya Pradesh.
“NIMHR will be the first of its kind in the country in the area of mental health rehabilitation. It will serve as an institution of excellence to develop capacity building in the area of mental health rehabilitation,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted after inaugurating the institute.
India’s President Ram Nath Kovind too has spoken about a “possible mental health epidemic”, highlighting the shortage of mental health professionals and facilities.
“The number of affected in India is larger than the entire population of Japan. We need to address this gap and ensure that by 2022 at least those who are suffering from severe mental disorders have been diagnosed and have access to treatment facilities. Let us take it up as a national mission,” Kovind said at a convocation ceremony of the NIMHANS.
According to the WHO, the the number of mentally ill people may shoot up to 20 per cent of the population by 2020.
There are millions of Indians suffering from depression, anxiety disorders and stress disorders. There are only 43 mental hospitals in the country and most not state-of-the-art.
Government data highlights the dismal number of mental healthcare professionals in India; 3,800 psychiatrists and just 898 clinical psychologists. A large number of them are located in urban areas.
The WHO says there are only three psychiatrists per million people in India, while in other Commonwealth countries, the ratio is 5.6 psychiatrists for the same.