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Country's First ever Mental Health Policy Unveiled
Oct 14, 2014

Dr Harsh Vardhan, Union Health Minister, recently unveiled the country’s First ever Mental Health Policy. Universal access to mental health care is a specific goal of the government. It would find substantial articulation in the evolving National Health Policy and National Health Assurance Mission (NHAM). Significantly, the Mental Health Policy was launched on the first ever National Mental Health Day organised by the government.

The Policy’s objective is 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. It will have a pro-poor orientation because only the creamy layer of society presently has access to mental healthcare in India today.

The policy is backed up by the Mental Health Action Plan 365. It clearly spells out the specific roles to be played by the central government, the state governments, local bodies and civil society organisations.

The government is also planning to move Mental Health Bill in Parliament because the earlier effort made in 1987 ran aground due to a number of defects. This time a policy group worked dedicatedly to develop its recommendations. Earlier laws governing the mentally ill, 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.

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. The bi-directional relationship of mental ill health and poverty is evident in many reports, including the World Disability Report, 2010, that places persons with mental disabilities at the bottom of the pyramid. This alerts us to what could become a health crisis with damaging consequences for society.


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