We know that mental healthcare is inaccessible in India. But it can't stay like that. Fortunately, some of us are aware that we as citizens do have some rights in this domain as well.
The Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 makes several progressive provisions for you, as a client. You have the right to access mental healthcare from any government institution. For people with BPL status, the heath care is free.
You can send an advanced directive stating what kind and way of treatment you would want, to your therapist/psychiatrist, which they have to follow. These may encompass whether you want to take medication, or just go for therapy; what kind of therapy you prefer, whether you want to include your family and near and dear ones in the process of counseling; and if asked to do so, you can request for justifications and decide.
You also have the right to confidentiality, and if your name or photographs are being used in the media without consent, it would be considered a violation.
Of course, despite that, malpractices are rampant and need to be curbed. There are few ways in which you can ensure that your rights are not being violated, or the appropriate authority is alerted about it.
One visit to the Medical Council of India (MCI), and you would know where to lodge a complaint against malpractices by the registered doctors. Under this provision, you may register complaints against Psychiatrists.
However, for the other mental health practitioners (clinical psychologists, counselors, child psychologists, other therapists, etc.), the registration takes place with the Rehabilitation Council of India (RCI).
It is, perhaps, appalling that the RCI, despite claiming to be responsible for managing and ensuring ethical practices in any form of therapy, there is no direct provision of lodging complaints against therapists who violate the norms. Most of their objectives are institution or practitioner focused, and there is no focus on the ones who are impacted the most in case of unethical practices at the Clients.
But we cannot simply let the widespread unethical practices pass us by. So there are certain things we can do to bring about a change in this system.
Some part of the issue needs to be tackled structurally, at a policy level.
In certain cases of violations, like breach of confidentiality, disrespect for your directive, you may file an FIR, and the offenders would be punished up to 6 months in jail, and/or a fine of 10,000 rupees. Repeated offenders can be punished up to two years in jail and/or fined up to 5 lakh rupees.
Even if they do not have a formal complaints' page, register complaints against unethical practitioners through their email ID - firstname.lastname@example.org. They may conduct evaluations based on such complaints, and cancel registrations, if found guilty.
Given that the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 makes so many provisions giving back agency to the clients, we can write to the government officials under the Central Mental Health Authority or the State Mental Health Authority, who have been appointed through the Act.
One can form informal lists and exposing medical practitioners who have indulged in unethical practices. Circulating it among the peers would warn people to refrain from approaching them. However, one needs to be careful while doing this. The practitioners are not Gods, and mental illness can be varied in its symptoms, unlike physical illness. Thus, sometimes, misdiagnosis is not their mistake. Hence, holding them accountable can only be possible in certain areas like - violation of your confidentiality, lack of interest in what you say as a client, coercion and/or manipulation, etc.
These steps are not sure-shot, but a way move beyond being passive recipients, and urging the responsible authorities to take measures to ensure that we receive quality mental healthcare.
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