Many mental health professionals in India would turn away suicidal patients to avoid legal trouble in case their patients attempted suicide while under their care because attempted suicide and “any act towards the commission” of suicide was a crime. But now, as of March 27th, and to much rejoice, India decriminalized attempted suicide.(!)
Under the bill just passed, psychiatric care is to be recognized as a right for all Indians, and guarantees a considerable upsurge in funding to help provide it.
In India, policymakers have long asserted that people driven to attempt suicide need rehabilitation. But under the previous law, they instead faced the punishment of a fine and up to one year in prison (because suicidal people should be made to suffer even more). The threat of prosecution was often used to extract bribes from the families of those who attempted suicide. It’s also notable that India’s government has unashamedly used laws in the past against attempted suicide to lock up activists staging hunger strikes.
The Economist reports:
The next step in mental-health reform is to allocate more money and expand the workforce, says Mr Pathare. Mental health made up just 0.06% of India’s health budget in 2011; the median in countries of comparable development is 1.9%. Despite having a population more than 50 times bigger than Australia’s, India has around the same number of psychiatrists (just 3,500).
Yet the reforms are unlikely to reduce India’s suicide rate, which, adjusting for age, is almost double that of America. Researchers often attribute large numbers of suicides in Asian countries to “impulsive” acts in moments of crisis, rather than diagnosable mental disorders.
Limiting access to pesticides, poisons that are close at hand for most rural Indians, may prevent such deaths, as it has in Sri Lanka. Unlike many countries, India has no national suicide-prevention plan. More can be done to break the taboos that prevent the depressed from opening up to friends and doctors.
The big challenge is to improve the lot of India’s young, among whom suicide is the leading cause of death. Suicide rates in Asia tend to shoot up as people enter old age; in India the opposite is true. The suicide rate for women aged 15-29 is more than double that of any other country except Suriname (which has a large Indian population) and Nepal (which shares many cultural similarities).
In future they, and other Indians, may find it easier to seek psychological help without fear. But the world they are living in cannot be regulated away.
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