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Mental Health Policies and Laws

  • 10 Oct 2023

Every year, on October 10th, the World Mental Health Day is observed. The World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) unveiled the WFMH Global Campaign 2023, which marks the 75th anniversary of WFMH. The theme for this year is "Mental Health is a Universal Human Right". The purpose of this blog is to address the current state of mental health worldwide and to understand the need for mental health policies. In this blog, I will address the current situation of mental health globally, mental health policies, the legal framework surrounding mental health, some key initiatives, and the benefits and challenges of mental health laws.

Current State of Mental Health Worldwide

The prevalence of mental health issues is on the rise globally, primarily attributed to shifts in demographics. Over the past decade until 2017, there has been a 13% increase in mental health conditions and substance use disorders. Depression is the leading cause of disability globally. Mental health problems, including alcoholism, feature prominently among the top ten causes of disability in both developed and developing countries. These issues impact all aspects of life, often accompanied by stigma, discrimination, and abuse.

Surprisingly, less than 2% of the global median of government health spending goes toward mental health. Effective treatments exist but remain inaccessible to many. Poverty, limited education, gender inequality, violence, and illness often contribute to poor mental health, hindering individuals from reaching their full potential and contributing to their communities.

Addressing mental health requires increased investment in awareness, access to quality care, and research for better treatments. Recognising mental health as a vital development obstacle is gaining momentum, emphasising the importance of addressing these invisible but significant challenges to achieve global development goals.

Importance of Mental Health Policies and Laws

The increasing cases of mental health has become a new reality. In such a scenario, a regulatory framework is essential, to protect the rights of people with mental health disorders and to advance the provision of high-quality care. A legal framework would allow the integration of mental health into a public health policy. When legislation is in place, it's easier to access care which improves the chances of diagnoses of any mental health issue as well as reduces the chance of poor mental health.

Additionally, by lessening the undue financial burdens while seeking mental health care, financial protection is given by pre-existing policies. Mental health policies can also hold service providers responsible for results and client experiences, guaranteeing that people receive high-quality care and that their needs are satisfied respectfully and efficiently. Last but not least, mental health policies can encourage research and innovation in the field, expanding our knowledge of mental health diseases and services, enhancing available treatments, and encouraging further study.

Legal Framework Surrounding Mental Health

  1. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is an agency within the US Department of Health and Human Services, which is responsible for administering laws and rules relating to services for drug abuse and mental health. The goals of these laws and rules are to guarantee that people with mental health disorders receive quality care and that healthcare professionals are held responsible for the results and the patient's experience.
  2. The Mental Healthcare Act 2017 (MHCA 2017) in India specifically addresses patients' rights and establishes the moral and legal standards for mental health care. This law places a strong emphasis on the value of confidentiality, informed consent, and the right to mental health treatment.
  3. People diagnosed with mental health disorders have a right to be free from all forms of abuse, including constraint and isolation methods. They also have the right to decide how they want to live, including how they want to be treated and to reside in and actively engage in the communities of their choosing. People with mental health disorders are frequently the target of discrimination in settings like housing, employment, and education.

Some Key Mental Health Initiatives

  1. In 1991, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted principles for the protection of persons with mental illness and the improvement of mental health care. It mentions 25 principles which include fundamental freedoms and basic rights, protection of minors, life in the community, determination of mental illness, medical examination, standards of care and treatment.
  2. World Health Organisation (WHO) launched a special initiative for mental health (2019-2023): Universal Health Coverage for Mental Health. With the help of this program, 100 million people will have access to high-quality, economically feasible treatment for mental health issues in 12 priority countries.
  3. The Global Mental Health Advocacy Roadmap for 2022-23: This road map outlines several goals that are essential to accelerating progress on mental health, such as achieving global and national policy reform and increased funding, incorporating mental health into universal health coverage, upholding everyone's right to good physical and mental health, enhancing monitoring and accountability, and creating and disseminating best practices.

Benefits of Mental Health Policies

There are many reasons why effective mental health policies can be of great benefit. Firstly, when clear policies and laws are put in place regarding mental health, outcomes for both individuals, as well as society at large will improve. The stigma surrounding mental health would reduce, if not vanish when government and international organisations acknowledge the need to provide mental health care and bring legislation. This can positively lead to an increased level of awareness and sensitivity among the general public.

It can also lead to an increased level of productivity at the workplace through the promotion of mental wellness at work. Healthcare expenditures related to mental health issues can be lowered with the support of an effective mental health policy. Policies can aid in lowering the need for higher-priced procedures and hospital stays by encouraging preventive and proactive intervention. Most importantly, mental health legislation can enhance a person’s quality of life. It can help people lead happy and full lives by fostering mental well-being, ensuring access to high-quality mental health care, and dealing with the social aspects of mental health.

Challenges in the Implementation of Mental Health Laws

  1. Stigma Attached to Mental Health: The stigma associated with mental illness can make it difficult to obtain mental health services and can make it difficult to enact and enforce mental health regulations. Mental health is still not given enough attention as much as physical well-being. Efforts to lessen stigma and raise awareness can help make mental health treatments more accessible.
  2. Lack of Research Capacity: Bridging the discrepancy in the field of mental health care is difficult due to the lack of research facilities for implementation and policy reform. To determine the most effective methods for putting mental health laws into effect and enforcing them, more research is required.
  3. Lack of Professionals and Services: A lack of skilled professionals in the mental health field might make it difficult to effectively execute and enforce legislation on mental health. Access to essential mental health services may be delayed because of this shortage. Additionally, the difficulties in implementing and upholding mental health laws can be attributed to fragmented service delivery models. This problem can be resolved by integrating mental health treatments into primary care.
  4. Resource Constraints: Implementing and upholding mental health regulations can be difficult in particularly susceptible areas, like those experiencing armed conflict and development barriers, due to resource constraints like poor infrastructure and security issues. Resources should be made available by governments and international organisations to aid in the implementation of mental health laws in these situations.
  5. Lack of Insurance: The implementation and enforcement of mental health laws can be hampered by obstacles to receiving mental health care, such as a lack of insurance. For strengthening access to care, it is crucial to guarantee enough coverage for mental wellness.

Conclusion

Mental wellness is vital for the overall health of any individual. As the younger generation, I request my readers to understand the importance of it and acknowledge that it is crucial for us to destigmatise mental health issues. Awareness, sensitivity, and empathy can go a long way and make the world a better place. For legislation to come into place, it's essential to make certain that mental health is recognised, promoted, and safeguarded, and that immediate action is taken to ensure that all individuals are able to exercise their fundamental rights and obtain the necessary mental health care needed.

Sources:

Annie Pruthi

Annie Pruthi is a Master’s graduate in Political Science from Jamia Millia Islamia. She is currently working as a Research Intern at PRIDE, Lok Sabha Secretariat. She is also the co-author of the book "Will You Stay?" and the recipient of the Coimbatore Literary Awards. (2020). Her research interests include Indo-Pacific studies.

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