A new proposed bill aims to provide relief to mentally ill patients across the country. Prepared by the law and health ministries, it will ensure that patients are not dumped in hospitals and mental asylums for more than six months or given electric shocks without their prior consent.
The Mental Health Care Bill, which seeks to update India’s 25-year-old law in accordance with the United Nations’ conventions, calls for a six-month jail term for those found guilty of violating the new safety guidelines.
According to the latest estimates provided by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS), Bangalore, at least two crore Indians suffer from serious mental disorders and need help.
The proposed bill aims to make it mandatory for hospital authorities to follow an “advance directive” from mentally ill patients or their immediate family members if the patients are not in a condition to sign it.
“Advance directive will mean conferring powers upon every person with mental illness to let the health authorities know what kind of treatment he/she wants and what they would like to decline during the course of treatment,” states the proposed bill.
It also proposes to make it compulsory for the medical officer in charge of a mental health facility to prepare a special report every six months about the mental and physical condition of all patients, to ensure that no person is dumped there on the basis of old medical reports.
The health ministry also wanted to scrap the direct electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) — generally known as electric shock — used to treat patients, but the law ministry retained it, albeit with stringent guidelines regarding when it can be used.