New Delhi: The long awaited Mental Health Care Bill, 2013, was introduced in the Rajya Sabha by health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad on Monday. Among other radical rights based measures, the Bill decriminalizes suicide and states that any person attempting suicide would be presumed to be mentally unwell unless proved otherwise.

This Bill, once passed, will replace the current Mental Health Act, 1987. One of the significant shifts in the 2013 Bill is that it gives every person the right to make an “advance directive", which is essentially a written statement stating how they want to be treated when they’re not in a state to make appropriate decisions.

More importantly, if a person has recorded an “advance directive" stating his/her unwillingness to be committed to an institution, he cannot be forced by doctors and/or family.

This is a drastic shift from the current law—The Mental Health Act, 1987—where a patient cannot challenge a doctor’s decision. In the 2013 Bill, a patient can challenge any decision by approaching a mental health tribunal. Another alternative provided in the Bill is that individuals can also choose a “nominated representative" to assist them with the treatment and look after their interests when they cannot themselves do so.

According to 2005 report by the National Commission on Macroeconomics and Health, nearly 65—70 million people in India have some kind of mental illness. The commission also estimated that there was a 70—80% treatment gap for mental disorders.

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