NEW DELHI: The Centre on Friday launched the country’s first-ever Mental Health Policy, to provide access to good quality treatment for the mentally challenged, with a focus on those living in poverty. It would find substantial articulation in the evolving National Health Policy and National Health Assurance Mission.
Union Health Minister Dr Harshvardhan said the Policy’s objective was to provide universal access to mental health care, by enhancing understanding of mental health and strengthening leadership in the mental health sector at all levels. He added that the Policy was backed up by the “Mental Health Action Plan 365” and clearly spelled out the specific roles to be played by the Central government, the state governments, local bodies and civil society organisations.
The Union Health Minister said, “Mental health institutes across the country would be remodelled on the lines of the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences, Bangalore.”
The World Health Organisation has predicted that about 20 percent of India’s population would suffer from some form of mental illness by 2020.
“The country has only about 3,500 psychiatrists. Therefore, the government is confronted with the problem of lowering this gap significantly over the next decade,” Dr Harshvardhan said. The Health Minister added that October 10, observed as the World Mental Health Day, would now also be observed as the National Mental Health Day. He also said that the government would try and introduce the Mental Health Bill in Parliament in the next session.
“This time, a policy group worked dedicatedly to develop its recommendations. I thank them for recognising that the vast majority of the mentally challenged people in India live in villages and there is literally no care available for them,” he said, pointing out that the earlier laws governing the mentally challenged, The Indian Lunatic Asylum Act, 1858, and Indian Lunacy Act, 1912, ignored the human rights aspect and were concerned only with custodial issues.
After Independence, it took 31 years for India to attempt the first enactment, which resulted another nine years later in the Mental Health Act, 1987. But due to many defects in this Act, it never came into force in any of the states and union territories.