What is Mental Illness?

Last updated on May 31, 2024

Mental illness is a health condition1 which involves substantial disorder of thinking, mood, perception and orientation or memory. This may lead to gross impairment of judgment, behaviour, capacity to recognise reality or ability to meet the ordinary demands of life. Abuse of drugs or alcohol may also result in a mental condition. Some examples of mental illness are substance abuse disorder, bipolar disorder, etc. This does not include mental retardation i.e. incomplete intellectual development. Persons with mental illness also have rights under the law including the right to confidentiality, right to treatment, etc. 

Determination of Mental Illness

To determine whether one has a mental illness it must be determined according to nationally/internationally accepted medical standards, like the International Classification of Disease of the World Health Organisation.2 

These reasons cannot determine whether a person is mentally ill3:

  • Past treatment for a mental illness4
  • Political, economic or social status
  • Belonging to a cultural, racial or religious group, or for any other reason not directly relevant to mental health status of the person; 
  • Refusal to conform to moral, social, cultural, work, political, or religious values prevalent in one’s community.

Please note that one cannot be considered as a person of unsound mind, merely because they have a mental illness. Only a Court can declare a person to be of unsound mind5. 

Capacity to Make Treatment Decisions

The capacity to make mental healthcare-related decisions depends on the conditions given above6 :

  • The ability to understand relevant information on mental healthcare related issues, such as admission, personal assistance or treatment. Please note the information given to the person has to be comprehensible. For example, Ram cannot hear properly. The information given to him will be using means that will enable him to understand it7
  • The ability to understand the consequences of a decision on the treatment, admission or personal assistance
  • The ability to communicate the formed decision through speech, expression, gesture, etc. 

If one takes a decision that others think is incorrect or inappropriate, that solely will not mean that one does not have the capacity to make such a decision8. For example, against the wishes of his parents, Ram decides not to go to a mental health establishment. The sole fact that Ram’s parents think that a decision is inappropriate does not mean they do not have the capacity to make such a decision.

  1. Section 2(s), the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017. []
  2. Section 3(1), the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017. []
  3. Section 3(3),  the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017. []
  4. Section 3(4),  the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017. []
  5. Section 3(5),  the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017. []
  6. Section 4(1),  the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017. []
  7. Section 4(2),  the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017. []
  8. Section 4(3),  the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017. []

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