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‘Government urged to build mechanisms for mental health’

The newly passed Mental Healthcare Act 2017 is a progressive step and one must see its implementation, interpretation and how it is being understood by the state governments to know its full potential, said experts.

‘Government urged to build mechanisms for mental health’
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Industrialist Nalli Kuppusamy Chetty, MP Kanimozhi, Dr Lakshmi Vijayakumar and Justice AR Lakshmanan

Chennai

At SNEHA Foundation Trust’s 31st anniversary, held recently, Keshav Desiraju, former Union Health Secretary, who was involved in the drafting of the bill that had been mulled over for more than a decade, said, “The Bill is a significant piece of legislation, especially as it grants privileges to the person with mental illness — not their caregivers or their families. Having said that there are several psychiatrists who don’t approve of it.” 

While IPC 309 that criminalises attempting suicide remains, the Act nullifies it effectively by ensuring the person receives care and is not punished. 

“The effectiveness of the new Act will be seen when it is implemented, interpreted and much depends on how it is understood by the state governments,” he said and added “More importantly, the Act has recognised the fact that the person who has attempted suicide to be under stress and will be provided with medical help and rehabilitation.”

Dr Lakshmi Vijayakumar, founder of SNEHA, which has been running a helpline for suicide prevention since 1986, said that the idea to decriminalise suicide was obtained from an incident involving a young woman who attempted suicide some years ago. “She was rescued and admitted to a hospital in the city. A day later, the police 

came looking for her asking everyone about directions to the girl’s house as it had become a medico legal case under IPC 309, identifying her as someone who had attempted suicide. Alas, she committed suicide the same day by hanging,” she said.

She added that criminalising of attempt to suicide had made many of them being deprived of treatment, resulting in more deaths. Tamil Nadu has the second highest number of suicides in the country from 2013-2015. In the year 2015 alone a whopping 15,777 people committed suicide in the state. The rate per lakh of population in the state is 22.8 and it is 43.2 in Puducherry. Increased stress levels and incidences of depression make timely help imperative for those with suicidal tendencies. 

Rajya Sabha MP Kanimozhi, who took up the topic of decriminalising suicide in Parliament, said that while the law was in place, there was also a need to strengthen resources to deliver it effectively. “We don’t have adequate psychiatrists and psychologists. More importantly, apart from experts, the onus is on the governments to build infrastructure,” she said. 

Justice AR Lakshmanan, Former Judge, Supreme Court of India, who had prepared a report supporting decriminalisation was also part of the event.

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