The Mental Health Act 1987: Quo Vadimus?

Pratima Murthy

DOI: 10.20529/IJME.2010.052


Persons with mental illness have the right to a range of treatment and supportive services in the community. These need to be assured to them by law. While older legislations viewed persons with mental illness either as “being dangerous” or as “objects of charity”, the current UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability views them as “subjects with rights”. This has led to an urgent relook at the Mental Health Act 1987, which has faced criticism ever since its enactment. The recently proposed amendments enlarge the scope of regulation to include diverse mental healthcare facilities and professionals; seek the setting up of a State Mental Health Review Commission; lay down guidelines for “independent” and “supported” admissions; and propose new sections for emergency and other treatments, physical restraint and discharge. The debate regarding these amendments ranges from whether an amendment of the MHA will suffice or whether a new Act is required; whether the amendments are sufficiently broad-based or excessively focused on inpatient treatment; how mental illness is addressed in other Acts; who are key stakeholders, and, most important, whether the mechanisms for service provision have been adequately thought through. The process of initiating the amendments has been questioned by different stakeholders and highlights the need to bring about legislative change through adequate dialogue and collaboration.

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