The Mental Health Act, 1987

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The Mental Health Act, 1987 is an act which changed the perspective of society towards mentally ill persons. The said Act, though enacted in 1987, came into force in 1993. The Act repealed the Indian Lunacy Act of 1912 which had repealed Indian Lunatic Asylum Act, 1858; the first legislation related to mental health in India.

Mental Health Act, 1987 consists of 100 sections which are classified under eight chapters. Two rules have been legislated for an efficient implementation of the Act. First is the state mental health rules, 1990 and second is the central mental health authority rules, 1990. The state mental health rules have been made for an effective implementation of the Act of 1987 in each state.

The purpose of Mental Health Act, 1987 is to consolidate and amend laws relating to the treatment and care of mentally ill persons and further to make provisions for their property. The Act helped the person with mental disease to lead a life of dignity and respect. The Act abolished the use of offensive terminologies which were used earlier in the Indian Lunacy Act, 1912 such as “lunatic” term was replaced with “mentally ill persons.” Section 2(l) of the Act defines mentally ill person to be those who needs a treatment related to mental disorder but should not include any mental retardation.  The Act changed the lunatic asylum as used earlier to psychiatric hospital or psychiatric nursing home. It is defined under section 2(q) of the Act which provides that the nursing home should be established and maintained by the Government only for the treatment and care of mentally ill persons and it also includes a convalescent home for the improvement of ill person but does not include general hospitals.

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The Act brought simplification in cases of voluntary registrations. Part 1 of Chapter 4 deals with the same. The person who has attained the age of majority and is of the view that he/she is mentally unfit and wants to be admitted in the psychiatric hospital, in that case, the medical officer can be requested for the admission in the hospital. In cases of minor, the guardians of such minors if they are of the view that such minor’s needs psychiatric medical treatment then the medical officer in charge for such admission need to be contacted. Thereafter the medical officer in charge of such admissions under section 17 of the Act would consider the applications within twenty four hours of such request and if he is satisfied ,  he would admit those person s whom he consider to be mentally unfit and who needs in house psychiatric treatment. The discharge of the patient shall be done depending upon the medical officer and within twenty four hours of such receipt, the patient shall be discharge. Provided that where the medical officer is of the opinion that the patient has yet not recovered, in such a case, within seventy – four hours of such inquiry a board consisting of two medical officers would be constituted and if they are of the opinion that the patient is yet to be treated, the patient then would continue his/her treatment for a period of ninety days.

Despite the fact that mental health Act, 1987 brought a new change in the society which was not made by the Indian Lunacy Act, 1912, the mental health act, 1987 was unable to live up to the expectations of the globalised society. United Nations Convention for Rights of Persons with disabilities (in short UNCRPD) was adopted in 2006 which changed the mental health issue from the societal to human rights one. The signatories were expected to amend their respective domestic legislations in order to comply with the convention. India ratified it in the year 2008 and accordingly a bill was passed known as the mental health care bill, 2013 was passed by the legislature which would repeal the Mental Health Act, 1987.

Therefore, India is taking effective steps to make people with mental disorders live a normal life with the same respect and dignity as others live.

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by Neha Dayal.