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We live in a society where people often ignore talking about the absolutely imperative issue of “mental health”. The issue of mental health has been disguised behind the cover of stigma and prejudice for too long. The magnitude of suffering and burden in terms of disability and costs for individuals, families and societies it causes is awful. As per the WHO report one in every four patients visiting a health service has at least one mental, neurological or behavioural disorder but most of these disorders are neither diagnosed nor treated. Mental disorders are known to be caused majorly due to a complex interaction of social determinants like employment, education, living standards, environment, access, equity.
What is mental health?
The positive definition of “mental health” can be found in WHO’s definition that states mental health as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, that can help to cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to render a contribution to her or his community.” whereas, The Mental Health Care Act, negatively defines mental illness as: “mental illness means a substantial disorder of thinking, mood, perception, orientation or memory that grossly impairs judgment, behaviour, capacity to recognize reality or ability to meet the ordinary demands of life.”
Mental health is not just about asylums or rehabilitation centres but it is more about enhancing the competencies of individuals, communities and enabling them to achieve their self-determined goals. The Concept of mental health includes subjective well-being, presumed self-efficacy, autonomy, competence, intergenerational dependency and recognition of the ability to understand one’s intellectual and emotional capacity. It has also been defined as a state of well-being whereby individuals recognize their abilities and are able to cope with the normal stresses of life, work efficiently and fruitfully, and contribute to their communities.
In this coronavirus situation when the world is busy in defeating the virus, the rise of suicide rate in this present situation has embossed a great concern for the neglected issue of mental health around the world, the reason may be attributed to unemployment, virus fears, and poverty. While depression is the condition associated with mental health issues also, it may be attributed one of the leading causes of disability worldwide as more than 264 million people of all ages suffer from depression, still, it is not the number one health concern for the people. When it comes to India, 168 out of 350 non-coronavirus deaths till May 9, 2020, were suicides. Moreover, the World Health Organization estimates that India will suffer economic losses amounting to a staggering to 1.03 trillion dollars from mental health conditions between 2012 and 2030. When it comes to mental health concerns at the workplace, a study in 2015 showed that 42.5 per cent of employees in the Indian private sectors are more afflicted with mental problems such as anxiety disorder or depression, as compared to government employees. Further, the NCRB reports showed that 35 out of 100,000 people in Bangalore commit suicide due to depression. These statistics show cautionary concern about the deteriorating condition of mental illness in India.
The Legal position in India
The constitutional mandate of the state is to protect citizens’ right to live with human dignity. In 2017, Medical Health Care Act was implemented in India with an aim to provide efficient mental healthcare parallelly in a manner to protect, promote and fulfil rights of the person suffering from mental illness, however, in reality, implementation of this act is far cry from what it was intended. The Mental health care Act, 2017, mandates that every insurer shall make provision for medical insurance for treatment of mental illness same as offered for physical illness, however, in reality, cover for mental illness under the medical insurance policy is not offered by the insurers. On June 16, 2020, Supreme Court of India issued a notice to the government and the Insurance Regulatory Development Authority of India over a plea filed by an advocate to provide a cover of mental illness with the medical insurance policy.
The rise in cases of bullying, harassing, discrimination of employees at the workplace, has negatively affected on the performance, health, confidence of the employees subsequently attributed to mental health concerns and immediate stimulus of this premise is the judgement of the high court of Uttarakhand in Praveen Pradhan v. State of Uttaranchal & Ors, This case was pertaining to suicide of an engineer, whereby the deceased left a suicide note whereby he stated harassment by his superiors and colleagues reason of committing suicide. The court observed that under the umbrella of administrative control and discipline, a superior officer may be free to take any administrative disciplinary action, as per rules, but cannot be permitted to enjoy the liberty, full of ego, to humiliate a subordinate employee in a horrifying manner. Further, the court while disposing of the petition refused to quash the proceedings against the accused under section 306, IPC, for abetting the suicide of the engineer. Contrary, the high court of Chhattisgarh in Narendra Kumar Mishra v. Smt Prameela Joshi, and the high court Maharashtra in Deepak Prabhakaro Chondekar v. State of Maharashtra, these two cases were having similar facts compared to Parveen pradhan, in these two cases, the respective high courts quashed the proceeding against the accused of abetting the suicide of the senior employee. The different approaches of the three High courts in the same facts of cases, prima facie conclude that there is an absence of developed or settled judicial precedent that can help the judiciary to adopt a Universal approach prior to deciding whether suicide committed due to the humiliation at the workplace amounts to abetment within the accepted definition of abetment the under Indian penal code or not. To conclude India’s judicial and legislative approach, to provide compensation or remedies to the victim suffering from emotional distress at the workplace in unforeseeable circumstances has not been much progressive due to absence of any suitable laws or judicial decisions. Till today the highest compensation provided to the victim suffered from the mental agony was just INR 40K, whereas other jurisdictions like Ireland & Japan have taken more aggressive and compensation based approaches in tackling the problems of mental distress.
Learnings from Ireland & Japan
The two countries Ireland & Japan are among those successful countries that have formulated legislation and made a plethora of investments with an aim to combat multiple issues associated with mental health. Ireland enacted Employment Equality Acts, 1998 and 2004 under which Equality tribunals and an appellate tribunal was established. The act provided for a mechanism to receive, investigate and compensate complaints of the employees regarding discrimination and humiliation at the workplace. After the enactment of said acts, the majority of the organizations in Ireland started formulating their own policy and procedure with an aim to maintain the dignity of employees at the workplace. Ireland enacted the Mental Health Act in 2002, this act harmonized the rights of psychiatric patients. Moreover, Ireland invested massive revenue funding of over €1 Billion in 2019 for its primary, secondary and tertiary mental health services.
Developing countries like Japan on the other side have also taken various measures to combat mental illness, recently the National Diet(parliament) passed Anti-Power Harassment Laws in order to tackle workplace harassment. This legislation defines power harassment as “verbal or physical behaviour that goes beyond the business necessity and that takes advantage of superior positions in a relationship, harming the workplace environment.” The new rules in this act are intended to ensure suitable measures are being formulated and adopted by the organisations in order to combat harassment at the workplace. In practice, Japanese courts often deal with cases of mental harassment as personal injury claims under the Japanese Civil Code. The number of psychiatric beds in Japan is also the highest in the world. Moreover, Japan’s mental health investment amounts to 76.12% of its total health budget.
These legislative changes and investment in combating mental illness are in line with the larger effort to create a Mental health-friendly environment in Japan and Ireland.
Contrary, India’s 2018 budget allocation for the government’s flagship National Mental Health Programme stood at just Rs. 50 crore with a small increase of mere 15 crores over 2017-18, when India’s 13.7 per cent of the total population suffers from mental health problems these funds are certainly not enough. India’s suicide rate is highest in the South-East Asian region at 16.5 suicides per 100,000 people. Moreover, India does not have any suitable laws or regulations to tackle mental health concerns at the workplace. This lethargic situation of mental health in India certainly demands suitable monetary investment and legislative development from the Indian government in order to combat Mental illness and any failure will take India towards a mental health crisis.
To conclude it is suggested that the government should play a pivotal role in ensuring that laws and legislations are in place to address the issues of mental health. The government should allocate a maximum budget for combating mental illness. The government should not only uncover this critical illness but also ensure that every entity has appropriate safeguards to protect the rights of its employees including vulnerable populations. Proper monitoring of all the sectors should be followed in order to determine how they are performing with respect to workplace stress. Legal mechanisms should be placed efficiently to enforce, regulate Laws and penalize organizations or individuals who flout these laws. The legal system should provide avenues that can be assessed by both employers and employees alike.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)
Ankit Singh Rajput is a 3rd-year law student at Faculty of Law, Jamia Millia Islamia University.
Pragati Yadav is a 3rd-year law student at Faculty of Law, Jamia Millia Islamia University.
In Content Picture Credit: Manhatten Medical Arts