ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Draft National Health Policy 2001 - III : Mental Health: Serious Misconceptions

Policy must certainly be built on people-based principles and practices of 'holistic' health and serious consideration must be given to evolving new perspectives about mental health and the inner life that is beyond the Cartesian mind/body dichotomy. However, a 'holistic' conception of mental health is not about treating mental disorder as another type of public health issue, like kala azar or malaria. While mental health must make linkages with the public health discourse, the differences must be also recognised, articulated and debated.

There are several arguments as to why the meagre sections on mental health [2.10, 4.10] should be totally dropped from the National Health Policy, 2001.1 The basic question, begging for a larger debate and discussion among planners as well as community leaders is, whether mental health should figure at all in the health policy. The 1983 health policy did not mention ‘mental health’. Well and good. Only a year before, in 1982, the National Mental Health Programme had been drafted. The only mention the 1983 document makes of mental health is in the context of providing mental health care as well as physical and social rehabilitation for disability (mental retardation, deaf, dumb, blind, physically disabled, infirm and the aged). The document also promised to suitably organise programmes, which would ensure the prevention of various disabilities.

The very fragile linkages between ‘disability’ and ‘public health’ mentioned herein certainly requires a better understanding and critique, but we will not enter into that discussion here. Our question is, why was mental health introduced in the NHP, 2001 – who asked for it, who was ‘consulted’ on this? The mental health sections in this draft must go. And this is as good an opportunity to relook at the NMHP, 1982 and make the needed changes. I don’t believe it is possible, within the scope of the NHP 2001 draft, to offer anything promising or comprehensive in mental health.

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