The number of suicides has increased by 17% over the last decade—as per the National Crime Records Bureau, there were 1,33,623 cases of accidental deaths and suicides in 2015, compared with 1,13,914 in 2005. The irony of suicide in the country is that attempts to kill oneself have been long treated as a culpable crime—survivors are charged under Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code—though the need has been to offer counselling and treatment for depression that is often linked to suicide. Therefore, Parliament did well to recognise suicides as a problem emanating from stress and mental illness and decriminalise attempts.
The passing of The Mental Healthcare Bill—it was stuck for three years—paves the way for providing legal rights to individuals seeking treatment for mental illness. India already had a system for assisting people with suicidal thoughts, with many hotlines and help groups offering support. Even the courts had become more sympathetic towards the plight of those who tried to kill themselves. Thus, the new law is expected to provide a fillip to anti-suicidal initiatives.
The law can only help to a certain extent; it is far more important to create awareness about mental illness, which remains a stigma for many. With the law corrected to reflect the reality, attitudes of the larger public towards dealing with suicidal persons too needs to change.