News Brief

Health ministry notifies Mental Healthcare Act that decriminalises suicide

The new law also restricts the use of electric shock therapy.

The Health Ministry has notified the Mental Healthcare Act 2017 that decriminalises suicide, the Hindustan Times reported on Saturday. On May 29, the Central government notified the law that was passed almost a year ago in Parliament.

Some of the new legislation’s provisions are the banning of electric shock therapy for children with mental illnesses. In the case of adults with mental illnesses, the law only allows the controversial therapy to be used after the administration of anaesthesia and muscle relaxants. The new law also allows people to plan and give directives on the kind of treatment they would want if they are diagnosed with a mental illness.

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%-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.

“A very important factor in the Bill is that it separates attempt to suicide from the Indian Penal Code,” Nadda had said in 2017. “So, now IPC provisions cannot be invoked in case of an attempt to suicide. Since, the person undertakes the step in extreme mental stress, which means it’s triggered by mental illness, it should not be criminalised.”

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