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Mental Health and Right to Life

According to a survey conducted by UNICEF titled “The State of The World’s Children”, one in seven young adults (15-24 of age ) in India feel depressed, disinclined and unmotivated to do anything. Interestingly, the survey points out that in India, out of 83 nations surveyed, only a minority of 41 per cent of young individuals feel it is ‘good to reach out to others if experiencing mental health issues.

Keeping in mind how the last two years have taken a toll on almost everyone due to the pandemic, disease, isolation, unemployment and loss, are sadly but a few of the concerns from a plethora of global issues. While the Indian economy has mostly recovered in making healthcare and jobs accessible again, the toll on mental health has been much greater.

According to a study published in the Lancet, post the onset of the COVID 19 pandemic, there was an increase of 35% in reported cases of mental health in India. The study also reported that there was a considerable amount of gap in identification and timely treatment of cases owing largely to the shortages of professionals in the field.

This alone should be a wake up call for India to step up their mental health services and support.

Mental Health Awareness is a step towards advocating, acknowledging, and providing support to those individuals who are facing mental health related ailments.

Since time immemorial, Mental Health in India has been legally viewed as a psychotic disorder. In post-independent India, with support from activists and psychiatrists, we had the first Mental Health Act, 1987. Under section 81 of the Act, the government gave a list of rights to those suffering from mental health disorders along with other provisions. In 2006, the United Nations hosted its first convention seeking rights for people with disabilities. There was a paradigm shift for making mental health a fundamental right for every individual. The principles laid at the United Nations Convention declared the 1987 act as archaic, and called for the act to be reviewed.

In India, after several years of debate, the Mental Health Act was passed with presidential nod in 2017 and came into force in 2018. Apart from incorporating the cardinal principles laid in the 2006 United Nations convention, it also effectively decriminalises attempt to suicide and expands its reach to all individuals instead of including only clinically ill patients.

Taking Action at the Grassroot Level

Numerous organizations are breaking through the taboo around mental health and working towards creating a more inclusive and safe environment to speak about mental health disorders. Awareness campaigns help patients and their families to not only seek action, but also make an impact in the society.

To create awareness about constitutional inclusion and rights, regarding a citizen’s mental health, We, The People Abhiyan conducted a Citizen Cafe in May 2022. Through the workshop, the two panel experts discussed various issues and taboos around mental health redressal.

During the Citizen Cafe, Advocate Anuja Kapur noted, “Right to life with dignity is mental health”. Unfortunately, there remains a considerable amount of gap in enforcing the ideas of the constitution as individuals remain oblivious to the fundamental rights given to them. The word ‘Health’ as defined by the World Health Organization says ‘the state of complete physical, social, mental-well being and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity’. Right to Health, under Chapter IV of the Indian Constitution comes under the Article 47 of directive principle of state. Herein, the state or the government is responsible for providing general health care to the citizens.

How a common man can access the provisions of the Mental Health Act, 2017 “It’s all on paper, but do you see it all happening?” Advocate Sukanya Choudhri asks. She refers to chapter 7 and 8 of the Act, which talks about establishing institutes such as a mental health authority. Adding to this, she says, ‘The governments is instructed to run mental health programmes to advocate and destigmatize mental health in the country.” Earlier this year, Mrs. Nirmala Sitharaman, our finance minister while announcing the budget for the financial year 2022-23 briefly mentioned mental health. She acknowledged that the global pandemic had ‘accentuated mental health issues’ across all ages. To ensure equal and quality well-being of the citizens the government announced counseling and care services under the name “National-Tele Mental Health Programme”. Under the initiative, 23 tele-mental health centers are set to be established across the country with NIMHANS as the nodal center. Additionally, the system will have technical assistance from IIT Bangalore.

How can citizens take an action to protect their rights and rights of others as well Citizens can attend workshops and seminars, which encourages them to reach out to individuals who might be going through some turmoil, that is causing hindrance to their daily activities. Being present for such individuals and encouraging them to ‘talk it out’ might help release the burden from their shoulders. However, one needs to be sensitive while giving advices and should refrain from doing so under certain circumstances of unawareness, as it may do more harm than good. Advocate Anuja Kapur characterized between a psychiatrist and a psychologist as follows. “A person with any of these degrees can be approached by the aggrieved individuals. However, a psychiatrist and a psychologist are not the same. A psychiatrist is a MBBS doctor who can legally write prescriptions for his or her patients. On the other hand, a psychologist can provide counseling or therapy to his or her patients.” Apart from a common man’s role in attending webinars, contributing on field to help the patients; the politicians, lawmakers and other public figures need to address mental health to help destigmatize the issue on a larger scale. Additionally, inclusion of mental health in the individual states health budgets and expanding its allocation will help in creating more job opportunities and accessibility to institutes. At, We the People Abhiyan, we observe that conversation around mental health should happen every day to empower and support those who are in distress.

Authored by:

Mehak Mathur

Student & Active Citizen

Bachelor of Arts in Strategic Communications and Journalism,

University of Mumbai

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