The rights-based framework in the current Mental Healthcare Act 2017 (MHA-2017) has received a wider acceptance in the minds of policymakers, patients, caregivers, judicial officers, and mental health professionals.[1,2] However, there appears to be a huge gap between acceptance in our minds and implementation at the ground level. Theoretical knowledge of MHA-2017 and the inability to translate it into practice in most of the general hospitals in the country due to systemic issues has created a dilemma in the minds of psychiatry residents. Therefore, it is necessary to have periodic sensitization programs for psychiatry trainees as well as psychiatrists to learn about changing scenarios in mental health legislation in the past five years.
The only discipline of Medicine that carries special significance beyond ethical practice involving beneficence, autonomy, non-maleficence, and justice is psychiatry. This practice and the respect for the rights of a person to bring about optimum mental health outcomes have been legally guided. Forensic psychiatry has started to evolve as a subspecialty of psychiatry. However, are psychiatrists in the country confident in dealing with legal issues evolving in the aftermath of MHA-2017 and imparting this practice to postgraduate trainees? Is clinical practice synchronizing with the legal framework? Are we dealing with the paradox of MHA-2017? Are budding psychiatrists across the country in dilemma with regard to MHA-2017? The response of different states is varied in terms of readiness of infrastructure, the constitution of the State Mental Health Authority (SMHA), the functioning of Mental Health Review Boards (MHRB), and overall dismal application of MHA-2017. Are there hasty translations of Western World rules on the infertile grounds of India? More than four years after passing the act, the current level of functional implementation does not appear to be a healthy indicator for the growth of mental health services in the country. This could provoke lawmakers to bring out the amendments to MHA-2017 to best suit the mental health services and practices of the country. In the absence of functional MHRBs, the practical caveats that may require amendments may include providing electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) to children and use of hospital beds for day-care procedures in psychiatry that include but are not limited to the somatic therapies in psychiatry such as administration of electroconvulsive therapy and repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS). It also includes short-term observation for a few hours in a general hospital following administration of long-acting injectables (LAI) antipsychotics and assessment for the appearance of acute side effects such as post-injection delirium sedation syndrome, and acute dystonia and oculogyric crisis.
The other concerns requiring immediate attention for the functioning of MHRB include notifying advance directives, continuing admission under special circumstances, and provision of separate wards for children and women under psychiatry in a general hospital. These amendments could also add the role of MHRBs for adolescents involved in juvenile delinquency, child custody, termination of parental rights, and other related issues.
The protection of the rights of a person with mental illness should not be viewed as safeguarding oneself from the practice of psychiatry in the absence of full-fledged implementation of MHA-2017. This could be important for making a provision for the psychiatrist witnessing nonsexual or sexual boundary violation to notify the MHRB in advance, a point not placed in MHA-2017. The spirit of the MHA-2017 also does not clarify the role of the Consultation Liaison Psychiatrist and its effective practice in different departments under general hospital units. Further, the role of the psychiatrist in cases requiring cognizance of other specified acts such as the Prevention of Child Sexual Offense (POCSO) Act, Narcotics and Psychoactive Substances (NDPS) Act, The Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPwD) Act, Right To Information (RTI) Act, etc. should also be viewed in parallel with MHA-2017.
Authors emphasize the opportunity of teaching programs to highlight the gaps in training and implementation of MHA-2017. The absence of functional implementation of MHA-2017 requires the churning of thoughts of stakeholders to amend a few provisions such as the formation of the transitional local hospital review board till formal MHRBs are functional. This letter encourages clinicians and researchers to assess the compliance status of Indian states with MHA-2017 and to provide feasible solutions through systematic scientific research.
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