Law that decriminalises suicide attempt notified


In a landmark decision, the Act that decriminalised suicide, prescribed rules for humane treatment for mental patients and banned electric shock for mentally ill children, has been notified by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on May 29, 2018.

The Act, passed in Parliament last year, assures free treatment for people who are homeless or fall below the poverty line, even if they do not possess a BPL card.

The Mental Health Care Act, 2017, aims at ensuring that everyone has right to access mental health care and treatment from mental health services run or funded by the government, replaces a 1987 Act.

The Act stated, “Every person with mental illness shall have a right to live with dignity and there shall be no discrimination on any basis, including gender, sexual orientation, religion, culture, caste, social or political beliefs, class or disability.”

A person having a mental illness shall have the right to confidentiality in respect of his mental health, mental health care, treatment and physical healthcare. Any photograph or any other information, related to the person, cannot be released to the media without the concerned person’s consent.

The revised Act has been brought in following wide consultations. This Act gives an opportunity to a person to choose the kind of treatment they would want, in case they are diagnosed with a mental illness in future.

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

The Act also mentions to monitor voluntary admissions, and if a patient is to be admitted, it would be for a specific period. And that too, under the supervision of a trained psychiatrist.

Some of the provisions, under the revised law, are banning of electric shock therapy for children with mental illnesses.

Experts say, the revised law may run into some problems, but it would be immensely beneficial for the mental health patients in the long run.

Dr Sagar Mundada, a Mumbai-based psychiatrist, said, “Attempting suicide is brought under the Mental Health Act, and this is indeed a good move by the government. This move will benefit thousands of people. We need to understand that a person who attempts suicide is suffering from mental illness. Either the patient is depressed or is under severe mental stress. Till now, attempting suicide was a criminal offense under the IPC.”

He further added, “Earlier a person, who attempted suicide, used to hide many things from police and doctors. But now, the mentally ill patients can come forward and talk to the doctors freely. So, the doctors can treat them in a better way.”

Giving a similar vibe, Heena Merchant, an Assistant Professor of Psychiatrist Department, KEM hospital, said, “By bringing a suicide attempt under the Act is a good move. Earlier, the people, who attempted suicide, used to face a police inquiry. People feared a police inquiry. But now, people will come forward freely and the doctors can treat them accordingly.”