Working as a mental health professional at The Humsafar Trust (HST), India’s oldest community based organization supporting LGBTQ health and human rights, I have encountered countless cases of abuse faced by the community from family, friends and even health care providers. Now that The Mental Healthcare Bill 2016 has been passed, the entire mental health care industry will have to take note and I am hoping that it is a sign that the mental health rights of the LGBTQ community are set to improve. Here are some key points I found were important:
Mental health practitioners better watch out
Under Chapter II, a mental illness will only be determined by medical standards like the International Classification of Diseases (ICD). That means that mental illness of an individual SHALL NOT be determined by moral, social, cultural, work or political values or religious beliefs prevailing in an individual’s community. For years now, despite the fact that leading mental health bodies like the World Health Organization (WHO) had declassified homosexuality as a disease or disorder, LGBTQ individuals in India have been offered ‘cures’ for their supposed ‘disease’. This law will compel them to face facts and approach sexuality and/or gender with scientific temper rather than moral/ cultural standards.
Homophobic professionals will be shown the (prison) door
Some psychologists and/or psychiatrists have made it very difficult for LGBTQ individuals to avail mental health services as they do not understand their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Based on my clients past experiences, a lot of mental health care professionals have treated them unfairly. A basic quality or skill of a psychologist and/or psychiatrist is to be empathetic or non-judgmental, which has been lacking in the approach of many practitioners. There is a ray of hope as Clause 18 of the Bill ensures the right to access services without discrimination SPECIFICALLY on the basis of gender, sex, and sexual orientation.
Use of Aversion therapy is restricted
A large number of LGBTQ individuals before visiting LGBTQ friendly psychologists and/or psychiatrists, have gone through some form of conversion therapy, to the extent of shock therapy as a cure. Clause 95 of the Bill restricts the use of Electro-Convulsive Therapy (ECT) without the use of muscle relaxants and anesthesia and electro-convulsive therapy for minors. What worries me still is that this doesn’t completely eliminate the use of ECT for conversion therapy.
Registration of Mental Health Establishment Is A Must
As part of our International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia, HST had carried out a campaign called ‘Queers against Quacks’. We collected experiences of individuals who were treated for being LGBTQ and also documented instances of some health care professionals offering conversion therapies.
Under chapter XV-Offences and Penalties of the Bill, whoever carries on a mental health establishment without registration shall be liable to a penalty which could vary from five thousand rupees to five lakh rupees. This is a great attempt at regulating the rampant quackery which allows anybody to claim to be a mental health care provider and offer bogus cures. This clause however, also jeopardizes the work of practitioners like me who are qualified but not certified. In the past getting a RCI certification in India has been a tedious process, now that it is mandatory, I hope there are some changes to it.
Committing suicide is now decriminalized
Sexual minorities are vulnerable when it comes to their sexuality and/or gender expression which puts them at greater risk of committing suicide. The Bill states that any individual who attempts to commit suicide shall be presumed, unless proved otherwise, to have severe stress and shall not be punished. To curb suicide rates, the Bill states that the Government will provide care, treatment and rehabilitation to an individual, having severe stress and who attempted to commit suicide, to reduce the risk of recurrence of attempt to commit suicide.
This Bill addresses and engages with the psycho-social issues of LGBTQ and for the first time confronts the abuse faced by sexual minorities in mental health care and other settings. Hopefully the parliament will also take heed of the mental health and abuse faced by LGBTQ people under the shadows of IPC Section 377 soon.
Richa Vashista, Clinical Psychologist works with The Humsafar Trust. In the last 2 years, she has counselled LGBTQ individuals and/or their parents on issues of sexuality, coming out, depression, anxiety and suicide. She is currently implementing a research study which incorporates counseling on Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) focusing on their self-esteem and risky sexual behaviour. She is a co-author for India’s first manual ‘Strengthening Bridges: Manual for Counselors to Support Parents of LGBTQ’.
Rahul Sawnani is an illustrator and design professional from New Delhi. A book introvert whose likes long train rides, hearty conversations and cake for dinner. Drinks plenty water and occasionally has the abnormal urge to make poetry.