Though there has been much awareness about mental health in recent years among youth, there has been still a dogma in the society for Mental Illness. It starts with Parents and Guardians considering this a shame or an excuse, to society outclassing a people suffering from mental illness, treating them differently, pitying them, and depriving them of their basic right to human dignity.
Keeping the above points in mind and following the guidelines set by the UN in the convention on rights of persons with disabilities and its optional protocol, 2006, of which India was a part, The government of India passed Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 which repealed the earlier existing Mental Health Care Act, 1986.
This Act has been considered a progressive Act as it has given powers to the mentally ill person to decide the course of their treatment, decriminalized Attempt to Suicide, give provisions for the establishment of Mental Health Authorities, and provided for several rights to the mentally ill person.
Though there are several aspects of this Act, which need to be considered, in this article we shall take discuss the rights provided to the person with mental illness.
1. Right to appoint a nominated representative
Every person suffering from mental illness, and is not a minor, has a right to appoint a nominated representative. The nomination shall be made in writing on plain paper with the person’s signature or thumb impression.
The nominated representative shall be competent to discharge all duties or perform all functions as assigned to him in the Act and give medical health professional consent to perform his duties.
2. Right to access mental healthcare
Every person has a right to access mental health services of affordable quality, available in sufficient quantity, accessible geographically, without any discrimination based on gender, sex, sexual orientation, religion, culture, caste, social or political belief, or any other basis.
The care should be provided in a manner acceptable to the person with mental illness and their families and care-giver. A minimum quality standard of mental health services shall be specified by the State Authority.
The appropriate government shall provide sufficient provisions to the person suffering from mental illness and provide them with services, as mentioned in Section 18(4) of the said Act.
The government shall ensure minimum mental health services run or funded by the government be available in each district. No person suffering from mental illness has to travel long distances.
The person who is below the poverty line, destitute, or homeless shall be provided with mental health services and treatment free of any charge and at no financial cost by the government.
3. Right to community living
Every person with a mental illness will have a right to live in society. If such a person can’t go back to their home or if their families have abandoned them, then it is the responsibility of the Government to support them like appropriate legal aid and to facilitate his right to live in the family home.
4. Right to protection from cruel, inhuman, and dragging treatment
Every person suffering from mental health has a right to live with dignity and they shall be protected from cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. They shall have the following rights-
(a) to live in a safe and hygienic environment
(b) to have adequate sanitary conditions
(c) to have reasonable facilities for leisure, recreation, education, and religious practices
(d) to privacy
(e) for proper clothing to protect such person from exposure of his body to maintain his dignity
(f) to not be forced to undertake work in a mental health establishment and to receive appropriate remuneration for work when undertaken
(g) to have adequate provision for preparing for living in the community
(h) to have adequate provision for wholesome food, sanitation, space, and access to articles of personal hygiene
(i) to not be subject to compulsory tonsuring
(j) to wear own personal clothes if so wished and to not be forced to wear uniforms provided by the establishment
(k) to be protected from all forms of physical, verbal, emotional, and sexual abuse.
5. Right to equality and non-discrimination
Every person suffering from mental illness shall be treated as equal to persons suffering from physical illness in all provisions of all healthcare. There shall be no discrimination on any basis. There shall be no discrimination in regards to using any facility such as emergency facilities, use of ambulance services, living conditions in health establishments, or any health facility.
6. Right to information
Every person suffering from mental illness and his nominated representative has a right to know all the provisions of this Act and if he is admitted, then the criteria for admission. Also, he shall be informed about his right to make an application for a review of his admission. He shall be informed about the nature of his illness and the proposed treatment plan and side effects of such treatment if any. He shall be informed in a language in which he can understand.
7. Right to Confidentiality
A person suffering from mental illness shall have the right to confidentiality regarding his mental health, mental healthcare, treatment, and physical healthcare. All health professionals can only disclose such information to the nominated representative, other mental health professionals or to protect any other person from harm, or in the interest of public safety and security.
8. Right to access medical records
Every person has a right to access his medical records and a medical professional can, if necessary, withhold only that amount of information, disclosing which, can result in serious harm to the person suffering from mental illness or to likely harm any other person.
9. Right to personal contacts and communication
A person admitted at a mental health establishment has a right to refuse or receive visitors and to refuse or receive and make any telephone or mobile phone calls as per the rules of such establishments. He may send and receive mail through electronic mode including emails.
10. Right to legal aid
Every person with mental illness shall be provided with free legal services, as prescribed under the Legal Services Authorities Act, to exercise any of his rights as given in this Act.
11. Right to make complaints about deficiencies in the provision of services
If the person or his nominated representative is not satisfied with the response of the mental health establishments, the concerned Board, or the State Authority, then they have a right to complain regarding deficiencies in the provision of care, treatment, and services in a mental health establishment.