New Delhi: The right of mentally-ill patients to decide their mode of treatment, decriminalizing suicide for them and a ban on electric shock treatment without anesthesia are some of the progressive provisions of the new mental health bill proposed by the Indian government.

"The bill was passed by the union cabinet last week," Health Secretary K. Desiraju said.

Once passed by parliament, the bill will repeal the Mental Health Act, 1987. If passed, it will make access to mental healthcare a right for all. Also, such services would be affordable, of good quality and available without discrimination.

An estimated 10-12 million or one to two per cent of the population suffers from severe mental disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and nearly 50 million or five percent from common mental disorders such as depression and anxiety, yielding an overall estimate of 6.5 percent of the population.

Keeping in mind the rising number of people suffering from mental ailments, the new bill aims at introducing progressive and far-sighted steps for patients, a senior health official said.

"If a person has given an advance directive to the state that he or she should not be admitted to a facility without consent, it will be heeded to," the official said.

This was proposed keeping in mind that a person can be branded mentally ill by family members in property or marital disputes.

The official said the 1987 Act had vested extraordinary powers in treating psychiatrists. The bill now states that an individual can himself or herself take a call on the treatment.

Psychiatrists, however, feel that by giving powers to a mentally-ill patient to decide on the course of treatment would put him at risk.

"A patient in a psychotic phase or a mentally-ill person doesn't have the judgmental capacity to decide what is good or bad for him or her. So trusting that person to make the correct choice in such circumstances might be risky," said Samir Malhotra, head of the Department of Psychiatry at the Max hospitals.

He further said that the bill would significantly reduce the powers of the doctors in deciding the patients' well-being.

The bill also provides the right to confidentiality and protection from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, in addition to the right to live in a community. Legal aid will also be extended to them.


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