Exemption for mentally ill from suicide law

Proposed amendment to mental health law

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Sonal Matharu | February 18, 2011



Mentally unstable people who attempt suicide may not be booked under the law once the amended mental health act comes into being, said additional director general health services Jagdish Prasad here on Thursday.

“Under the amended mental health act, no police case will be filed against mentally unstable persons who attempt suicide,” Prasad told the media. However, he added that talk on the matter is on and whether this change will be incorporated or not can only be given next month.

In India, attempted suicide is a criminal offence under section 309 of the Indian penal code. It reads: “Whoever attempts to commit suicide and does any act towards the commission of such offence, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine, or with both.”

The new rule will protect patients, already on medication for mental illnesses, who attempt to kill themselves.

“In many cases it is seen that mentally ill patients are harassed by the people. To save these patients from this trouble, the change in the act has been proposed,” added Prasad.

Meanwhile, doctors dealing with the mentally ill patients feel it is a positive step and will help patients seek treatment for their conditions.

“If a mentally ill patient commits suicide and is unsuccessful, he lands up in a police station whereas he should be in a hospital seeking treatment. Suicide, under the present law is a criminal offence but it is also a major public health issue,” said Dr Deepak Kumar, head, psychiatry department, Institute of human Behaviour and Allied Sciences (IBHAS).

Kumar added that mental illnesses can be treated and the new law may help break the stigma attached with these illnesses. “It may encourage mentally ill patients to seek treatment and they are bound to get better with it,” he said.
 

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