Wednesday, March 23, 2011

India joins worldwide efforts to unchain mentally ill people

From the Times of India:

NEW DELHI, India -- India is all set to be part of the global movement to free mentally ill people from chains.

A shameful practice often referred to as a blot on human rights, mentally ill patients in the southeast Asia region, including India, are chained to poles or their beds in institutions meant to cure them.

In the Erwadi tragedy in India in 2001, over 20 people with mental illness were burned to death after a fire swept though an institute in which they were chained to their beds. Now, India in its draft Mental Health Care Bill 2010, which comes up for national consultation on Tuesday, prohibits "chaining of mentally ill patients in any manner or form".

It also prohibits electro-convulsive therapy without the use of muscle relaxants and anesthesia, electro-convulsive therapy for minors and sterilization of men or women, when is intended as a treatment for mental illness.

The bill also says that mentally ill patients can't be subject to compulsory tonsuring (shaving of head hair) and have to wear own personal clothes and not be forced to wear uniforms provided by the facility.

The bill gives special mention to how minors with mental illnesses need to be handled. It says any person under the age of 18 years (minor) can be admitted to a mental health facility only in exceptional circumstances and when two psychiatrists have independently examined the minor on the day of admission or in the preceding seven days and both conclude that "the minor has a mental illness of a severity warranting admission to a mental health facility".

The bill gives least amount of importance to seclusion and admission in "facilities".

It says: "Mental health services shall provide treatment in a manner which supports persons with mental illness to live in the community and with their families. Long-term hospital-based mental health treatment shall be used only in exceptional circumstances, for as short a duration as possible, and only as a last resort when appropriate community-based treatment has been tried and shown to have failed."

According to the draft bill, physical restraint or seclusion may only be used when it is the only means available to prevent imminent and immediate harm to the person concerned or to others. Also physical restraint can only be used if it is authorized by the psychiatrist in charge of the person's treatment at the mental health facility.

The draft bill also calls for the setting up of a Mental Health Review Commission within three months of the Act coming into force to exercise the powers. The commission's president has to be of the level of a HC judge.