Some 50 million people in India suffer from mental health issues, but the country's legislation and infrastructure are by no means fit to address the problem. There are no official estimates currently. In 2005, it was estimated that 6-7% of the population suffered from mental disorders, and about 1-2% suffered from severe mental disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Nearly 5% of the population suffered from common mental disorders such as depression and anxiety. However, real numbers could be higher, as mental illness often goes underreported due to the associated stigma.
A study by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare estimates that India is in dire need for nearly 54,750 medical and psychiatric personnel, including clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and nurses. At the moment, the figure stands at 7000.
The Indian Lunacy Act dates back to 1912 and was replaced by the Mental Health Act in 1987. Both laws mostly focused on the regulation of mental health care in institutions, rather than addressing the core issues of mental health problems or protecting the rights of the affected people. Law-making in India is a time-consuming matter. The Mental Health Care Bill, drafted in 2013, was passed by India's Council of States, the Rajya Sabha, in early August and is now to be presented to the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament, before it becomes the official law.
The Bill decriminalises suicide. It states that whoever attempts suicide will be presumed to be under severe stress, and shall not punished for it. Currently, attempting suicide is punishable with imprisonment for up to a year and/or a fine. The new law actually recognises suicide as a cry for help, and stresses on the immediate need to reach out and help the person overcome their issues. It does not treat the person as a criminal. The bill identifies inhuman and degrading treatment of the mentally ill as a crime, and for the first time, tackles the issue of mentally ill patients often admitted in institutionalised care forcibly, against their will. It instils in the citizens that everyone, even those diagnosed with a mental illness, are entitled to a life of dignity, and they must not have to live in isolation, away from their families or the community, at large.
However, no matter how progressive the new bill is, it is still just a baby-step of reform.
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