Academic journal article Indian Journal of Psychiatry

Mental Health, Mental Illness, and Human Rights in India and Elsewhere: What Are We Aiming For?

Academic journal article Indian Journal of Psychiatry

Mental Health, Mental Illness, and Human Rights in India and Elsewhere: What Are We Aiming For?

Article excerpt

Byline: Brendan. Kelly

The Mental Health Care Bill 2013 was introduced to the Rajya Sabha (India's upper house of parliament) in August 2013 and following 134 official amendments, passed in August 2016. Properly implemented, mental health legislation such as this plays a key role in protecting the rights of the mentally ill, ensuring access to care, and promoting social justice for the mentally ill, their families and carers. In this context, the 2006 United Nations' Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) presents a real opportunity to improve the position of people with disabilities and those disabled by long-term mental illness. The CRPD also presents many challenges to mental health legislators and service-providers, especially in relation to involuntary care, mental capacity, and substitute decision-making. Nevertheless, the CRPD has still generated strong incentive for reform and is an opportunity that should not be missed. Legislation along the lines of India's 2013 Bill offers much that is positive and progressive in terms of standards of care, revised processes for involuntary admission, and enhanced governance throughout mental health services. In this way, this kind of legislation, although imperfect in certain respects, promotes the principles of the CRPD (as outlined in the preamble to India's 2013 Bill). It is important that such initiatives focus not only on the right to liberty but also on rights to treatment, social care, social inclusion, and political empowerment of the mentally ill. Globally, the mentally ill have been neglected for far, far too long. It is time to fix this.


The Mental Health Care Bill 2013 was introduced to the Rajya Sabha, India's upper house of parliament, on 19 August 2013. The legislation aimed "to provide for mental health care and services for persons with mental illness and to protect, promote, and fulfill the rights of such persons during delivery of mental health care and services and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto" (Preamble). The twin emphasis on providing care and promoting rights is critically important in India, as it is elsewhere. This legislative initiative is therefore an exceptionally important one with real potential to improve the position of the mentally ill and enhance their experiences of good mental health, social justice, and liberty. [sup][1]

The current paper examines this development in the broader global context of human rights, mental health, and mental illness. More specifically, the first part of the paper looks at the background to current human rights standards relating to mental illness, and the second part focuses on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), [sup][2] which was adapted by the United Nations (UN) in 2006 and ratified by India in 2007. The 2013 Bill sought explicitly to harmonize Indian legislation with the CRPD, so this part of the paper focuses on two key issues in this context: involuntary care and mental capacity. Finally, some conclusions are presented, emphasizing the need to increase the level of social justice experienced by the mentally ill and their families, and to take a broad view of rights, spanning not just mental health services but the experiences of the mentally ill across broader society in India, the rest of Asia and elsewhere around the globe.

Mental health, mental illness, and human rights: What are the standards?

In light of the unprecedented humanitarian atrocities of the Second World War, the UN was established in October 1945 to promote international peace and security and reduce the possibility of further wars. One of the primary aims of the new organization was to articulate an intellectual and legal framework that would support the observance of human rights among member states and promote a culture of human rights throughout the world.

To promote these goals, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the UN General Assembly at Palais de Chaillot in Paris on 10 December 1948. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.