MENTAL HEALTH ACT, 1987Procedure in a NutshellIn order to understand the essence of the Act in general and the framework of the provisions in particular, an appreciation of the background of the Act is a prime necessity and so also the formation of the objectives. The change in the focus of the legislations from the hitherto existing objective of guarding the society from the mentally ill to the formation of a protective and reformative framework for the mentally ill is also to be considered.It is relevant to note in this context, the experience of the archaic working of Indian Lunacy Act, 1912. With the rapid advance of medical science and the understanding of the nature of malady, it became necessary to have fresh legislation with provisions for treatment of mentally ill persons in accordance with the new approach.In pursuance of which, a new legislation was envisaged for the following objectives and corresponding features to effectuate the same:§ To regulate admission to psychiatric hospitals or psychiatric nursing homes of mentally ill-persons who do not have sufficient understanding to seek treatment on a voluntary basis, and to protect the rights of such persons while being detained;§ To protect society from the presence of mentally ill persons who have become or might become a danger or nuisance to others;§ To protect citizens from being detained in psychiatric hospitals or psychiatric nursing homes without sufficient cause and to regulate responsibility for maintenance charges of mentally ill persons who are admitted to psychiatric hospitals or psychiatric nursing homes;§ To provide for the establishment of a Central Authority and State Authorities for Mental Health Services;§ To regulate the powers of the Government for establishing, licensing and controlling psychiatric hospitals and psychiatric nursing homes for mentally ill persons;§ To provide for legal aid to mentally ill persons at State expense in certain cases.This Act repealed the Indian Lunacy Act, 1912, and the Lunacy Act, 1977 (Jammu and Kashmir Act 25 of 1977) from the date of the Act coming into effect in 1993.ESSENTIAL FEATURES:The Act has defined a “medical practitioner” as a person who possesses a recognised medical qualification as defined by the:Indian Medical Council Act, 1956 and whose name has been entered in a State Medical Register; Indian Medicine Central Council Act, 1970 and whose name has been entered in a State Register of Indian Medicine; Homoeopathy Central Council Act, 1973 and whose name has been entered in a State Register of Homeopathy.The definition of a “mentally ill person” as a person who is in need of treatment by reason of any mental disorder other than mental retardation is to be noted in order to distinguish the same with the meaning of a “mentally ill prisoner” defined as a mentally ill person ordered for detention in, or removal to, a psychiatric hospital, psychiatric nursing home, jail or other place of safe custody.The other provision that needs to be noted is the definition of a “relative” that includes any person related to the mentally ill person by blood, marriage or adoption.The Act provides for and regulates “reception order” that are orders made under the provisions of this Act for the admission and detention of a mentally ill person in a psychiatric hospital or pschiatric nursing home.The Act provides for the formulation of the Central Authority for Mental Health Services to be in charge of regulation, development, direction and co-ordination with respect of Mental Health Services under the Central Government and all other matters that, under this Act, are the concern of the Central Government.For the purposes of this Act “Mental Health Services” include, in addition to psychiatric hospitals and psychiatric nursing homes, observation wards, day-care centres, in-patient treatment in general hospitals, ambulatory treatment facilities and other facilities, convalescent homes and half-way-homes for mentally ill persons too.Section 11 empowers the licensing authority to revoke the licence in case the psychiatric hospital or nursing home is not maintained properly or its maintenance is detrimental to the ‘well-being’ of the in-patients thereof. ‘Inspecting Officers’ under the Act effectuate the periodic inspection of the hospitals.In case the Magistrate, within the local limits of whose jurisdiction the mentally ill person resides, comes to know that the said mentally ill person is being ill treated, neglected or cruelly treated, he is empowered under this Act, to pass orders requiring the relative or other person to take care of such mentally ill person. There is also a provision for punishment in case of non-compliance with the aforesaid orders.The Act also provides for detention of the alleged mentally ill person, but under proper medical custody pending receipt of medical report. The period of such detention should not exceed a period of ten days at a time and thirty days in the aggregate.Judicial inquisition regarding alleged mentally ill person possessing property, custody of his person and management of his property too forms an essential part of the Act.A feature that denotes gender insensitivity is that a married daughter living with her husband and separate from her father is not entitled to a separate maintenance being allowed to her against her father’s estate, when that estate is taken charge by the Court under the relevant provisions the Act.The cost of maintenance of a mentally ill person detained as an in-patient in any psychiatric hospital or psychiatric nursing home shall, unless otherwise provided for by any law for the time being in force, be borne by the State Government, unless an undertaking of financial arrangement has already been obtained from a thirdparty.