India's “groundbreaking” Mental Healthcare Bill 2012, has been approved by the country's cabinet, and is just a parliamentary nod away from being enacted. Dinsa Sachan reports.
After ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)
in 2008, India was under obligation to amend its disability laws to meet CRPD norms. Moreover, a 2005 report by the National Commission on Macroeconomics and Health
recognised the huge burden of mental illness in the country and the inadequacy of the existing system to address the problem. According to the report, nearly 65—70 million people in India have some kind of mental illness, and this excludes common mental disorders. The commission also estimated that there was a 70—80% treatment gap for mental disorders.
A new law is the need of the hour, thinks Michelle Funk, coordinator of Mental Health Policy and Service Development at WHO's Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse. “Too few people with mental disorders and psychosocial disabilities in India have access to good quality mental health care, and too many within the system have experienced extensive human rights violations, including inhumane and degrading treatment, restraint, seclusion, physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, and neglect”, she says.
Keshav Desiraju, Secretary of Health and Family Welfare to the Government of India, concurs. “Mental health institutions in the government sector are depressing places which are starved of resources—both human and financial”, he says. “The bill will provide an enabling structure for the government to provide more resources.”