The Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority on Thursday asked insurance firms to include mental illness in their medical insurance policies. The regulator issued an order directing all insurance companies to adhere to the provisions of the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017, with immediate effect.

The order quotes a provision from the legislation. “As per Sec 21(4) of the said Act, every insurer shall make provision for medical insurance for treatment of mental illness on the same basis as is available for treatment of physical illness,” the statement said.

Observers opine that the development will contribute in reducing the stigma associated with mental illness. “This will ensure a life of dignity to those who have mental health issues,” Jyoti Punja, Cigna TTK Health Insurance Company’s chief operating officer and customer officer, told The Economic Times. “We believe it will certainly create awareness, acceptance, and inclusion when it comes to mental illness as any other ailment, while bringing mental health disorders at par with physical illnesses will ‘normalise’ diagnoses, reducing associated myths and stigma.”

The Mental Healthcare Act

The legislation describes mental illness as “a substantial disorder of thinking, mood, perception, orientation or memory that grossly impairs judgment, behaviour, capacity to recognise reality or ability to meet the ordinary demands of life, mental conditions associated with the abuse of alcohol and drugs...”

The Act aims to provide healthcare, treatment and rehabilitation for patients and ensure they are “provided in the least restrictive environment possible, and in a manner that does not intrude on their rights and dignity”, the Act states.

Nearly 1% to 2% of the country’s population suffered from severe mental disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and nearly 5% of the population has suffered from depression and anxiety at the end of 2005, Union Health Minister JP Nadda had informed the Lok Sabha in May 2016.