Suicide as an issue of mental health, and related legal provisions.
Suicide, which can be defined as “The intentional act of taking one’s own life”, is a social fact, which occurs every day in our country. It is a serious problem which persists in society today, with many people not even realising how big the problem is. According to a 2018 report published by the National Crime Records Bureau, there are more than 1,20,000 cases of suicide reported each year. The reasons, according to this report can be varied from bankruptcy to family problems and so on.
However, there is rampant misinformation and lack of awareness present in society. Several issues such as a failure of marriage or loss of a loved one are some of the prominent reasons for which people commit suicide, which can indirectly also be attributed to the mental health of the person at the time. The tragic demise of Sushant Singh Rajput, a prominent Bollywood actor who committed suicide recently sparked a major discussion on mental health and the importance of having good mental health care systems in the country. The misinformation could be seen in the reporting of a few news channels, who were making assumptions about the actor’s mental health, equating mental health with income and popularity, which is not relevant in determining a person’s mental health. Mental health issues are complicated, which should be dealt with properly, and is something which is as important as one’s physical health. Mental Health can be defined as “A person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being”. People in the past have failed to recognise the fact that a person’s mental health is as important as one’s physical health. And the Indian health care system is inadequate to deal with a person’s mental health situation. According to an international study conducted, 1 in every 7 Indians suffered from some form of mental health issues, and suicide was one of the leading causes of death among young people (Ages 15-35) in 20161. Moreover, the Yearly budget for mental healthcare programmes have been allocated only around 40-50 Crores, which is not sufficient to develop nationwide infrastructure to deal with such problems.
The Emergence of Covid-19 has raised unprecedented problems for the mental health of the general population. With compulsory State-Imposed Lockdowns, shortage of resources, and a nearly complete breakdown of ordinary social life has led to an understandable increase in stress, anxiety, and other forms of mental health issues. Several online resources have emerged in order to help people to cope with such problems, and the World Health Organisation, The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, among others have come out with publications to inform the public about the same. It is extremely important for people to maintain their mental health and should try to follow the advice which these publications give.
The legal provisions regarding suicide
While the problem of suicide in relation to mental health is an important comparison, it is also important to understand the legal framework of investigating suicides. The laws regarding suicide in India should be reviewed in light of the problems which are arising. All Suicides are investigated by the local police, in order to determine the circumstances under which such death occurred. The statutory provision for suicide is contained under the Indian Penal code, under section 309.
Section 309 of the Indian Penal codes define the punishment for attempt to commit suicide. Section 309 states that-
“309. Attempt to commit suicide.—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 1[or with fine, or with both].”
The criminalisation of the attempt to commit suicide is not a solution to the problem in any scenario, but instead, the law should be rehabilitative, where the person is sent for counselling and psychiatric help, to improve his mental health, and to transform him into a valuable member of society. This issue was not something which was recognised until 2017 when the Mental Health Care Act was passed by the parliament, which effectively decriminalised suicide under section 115 of the stated act, which has corrected the very lacunae of section 309, and in practice eliminating the applicability of punishment for the attempt to suicide. Section 115 states that-
(1) Notwithstanding anything contained in section 309 of the Indian Penal Code any person who attempts to commit suicide shall be presumed, unless proved otherwise, to have severe stress and shall not be tried and punished under the said Code.
(2) The appropriate Government shall have a duty to provide care, treatment, and rehabilitation to a person, having severe stress and who attempted to commit suicide, to reduce the risk of recurrence of attempt to commit suicide.
Thus, we can see that the legislature has recognized the crucial component of mental health, and also effectively decriminalized suicide. However, the implementation of such statutory provisions is still weak. There is only one psychiatrist for 1,00,000 people, while the minimum requirement, as per World health organisation norms are 3 per every 1,00,000.
While such problems exist, some positive changes can also be seen. The Supreme court recently Issued Notices directing the centre, and the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India to extend insurance cover to mental health treatment as well. Overall, informing ourselves is the most important in such circumstances, and the stigma associated with depression and mental health problems should be removed. an open and supportive atmosphere should be created for the same, and changes such as the Mental Health care Act will go a long way in doing so.
Here are some useful resources one can go through, to understand about mental health, especially in the current scenario-
Here are a few emergency resources provided for Prevention of suicide in India-
Aasra (Mumbai) 022-27546669, Sneha (Chennai) 044-24640050, Sumaitri (Delhi) 011-23389090, Cooj (Goa) 0832- 2252525, Jeevan (Jamshedpur) 065-76453841, Pratheeksha (Kochi) 048-42448830, Maithri (Kochi) 0484-2540530, Roshni (Hyderabad) 040-66202000, Lifeline 033-64643267 (Kolkata). Source- News18.com.
-  The burden of mental disorders across the states of India: The Global Burden of Disease Study 1990–2017, Published in the Lancet.