Government launches first mental health plan
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New Delhi: The health ministry launched India’s first mental health policy on Friday that seeks to provide universal access to mental healthcare, especially for the poor, reduce stigma around mental disorders and the number of suicides in the nation.
“Universal access to mental healthcare is a specific goal of the government. It would find substantial articulation in the evolving National Health Policy and National Health Assurance Mission (NHAM),” health minister Harsh Vardhan said.
However, the policy has a pro-poor orientation because the well-off already have access to mental healthcare, he said.
The other objectives of the policy include improving access to mental health for vulnerable groups like people in remote areas or the homeless, enhance understanding of mental health and enhance financial allocation to hospitals.
“Fresh funds for modernization will be given to all hospitals in the country to enable them to open departments for treating patients in need of psychological and psychiatric healthcare. Also, mental health institutes across the country would be remodelled on the lines of the National Institute of Mental Health and NeuroSciences (NIMHANS), Bangalore,” Vardhan said.
It’s critical to decriminalize suicide in the country and all the objectives of this mental health policy would be included in mental health Bill, which will be tabled in Parliament in the winter session, the minister said. “We will move the mental health Bill in Parliament in the next session,” Vardhan said.
This will be the second attempt to table the Bill in Parliament. In 2013, the then health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad of the United Progressive Alliance tabled a Bill that also spoke of decriminalizing suicide.
“That Bill was withdrawn. There have been comments from other ministries and changes are being made to that Bill, which will be tabled in Parliament after an approval from the cabinet,” a health ministry official said on condition of anonymity.
The earlier laws governing the mentally ill—Indian Lunatic Asylum Act, 1858, and Indian Lunacy Act, 1912—ignored human rights aspects and were concerned only with custodial issues, Vardhan said.
The policy launched by the government is backed by the Mental Health Action Plan 365, which highlights roles of different stakeholders for this initiative including the Centre, state governments, media and civil society organizations. The minister also named 10 October as National Mental Health Day.
“In India, around 20% of the population suffers from some form of mental illness during their lifespan. In India at any point of time there are 72 million people suffering from some form of mental illness or other ranging from depression to schizophrenia,” said Anshu Prakash, joint secretary in the health ministry.