What the Doctors Have to Say about India’s New Mental Health Bill

The Mental Health Bill 2016 brings in some significant changes in the way mentally ill patients are treated in India. It tries to empower the patients as well as their nominated representatives by giving them more say in the treatment, leading to a debate on this among the mental health professionals including the psychiatrists.

Anout The Bill

This bill specifies two categories of patients; independent ones who can make their own decisions without any support and the dependent types who suffer from severe mental diseases, who are not in a position to make judgments on their own. The bill lists a long procedure to admit dependent patients, only after a psychiatrist and a mental health professional independently confirm about the patient's condition as per set guidelines.

Without the consent of a relative, a person can be admitted only for a maximum period of 30 days, post which, the patient's condition is to be reviewed and submitted to the medical board which will decide on the further treatment needs. The concern of the mental health professionals being that this board only has one psychiatrist and none others have any medical background.

Where does the criticism come from?

The critics of the bill feel that some mental patients who suffer from serious disorders like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, may not be in a position to make a decision themselves or have any relative to consent for treatment. Dr. Yusuf Matcheswalla, head of psychiatry at Masina Hospital and GT Hospital, says that this bill, while giving a lot of power to the authorities, will delay the process of admission. He feels that this is only because no leading practitioners were consulted while drafting the bill.

The most controversial issue of the bill being the Advanced Directive that provides patients and their nominated representatives a big say, which Dr. Sagar Mundada, MD in psychiatry, feels has been blindly picked from the West. He feels that situations and circumstances with respect to mental health are different in India and doctors may be the best to make decisions.

The Other Side

Dr. Rajesh Nagpal, a Delhi based Neuro psychiatrist who worked on the bill says that this bill attempts to bring India's mental health laws up to date with global standards. He feels that it will regularize the field of psychiatry and will be in the interest of the patients.

Dr. Vijay Satbir Singh, additional chief secretary, health said in an interview to Hindustan Times that there is a need to create awareness about mental illnesses, and they plan to spend a huge part of the budget for this. To tackle the shortage of staff, they were training Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) workers. He further stated they were in discussion with psychiatrists to understand the shortage needs and will arrive at a solution. A well-connected chain of 2,000 diagnostic centers will be set up across the next two months at a cost Rs.150 crore, he confirmed.

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