How your privacy is protected when you access mental health services.
If you’re a fan of medical or legal dramas you’ve probably heard of “doctor-patient confidentiality” or “lawyer-client privilege”. They represent the idea that patients/clients should be able to fully trust their doctor/lawyer with anything they discuss, and that this information will be kept completely private between them. Confidentiality and privilege are essential to the relationship because they allow patients/clients to be honest and forthcoming with sensitive information without fear of repercussion. And, of course, the doctor/lawyer needs these details to make practical decisions that could drastically affect the patient/client’s life, so what they discuss should be as truthful as possible.
What about therapists, counselors, etc?
In the US and Canada, regulated health care providers are required to keep patient records confidential as per their code of ethics. This means they cannot discuss their patients with anyone—including the patient’s own family. If this information is disclosed without the patient’s consent s/he can seek legal action against the health care provider, unless:
- The health care provider is not a registered professional (ex: a counselor);
- The health care provider is legally required to supply the information in a court case;
- The patient is a dangerous and direct threat to her/himself or those around her/him; or
- The patient’s insurance company requires it for coverage purposes.
Patients under 18 years old
A child’s privacy rights depend heavily on where in the US or Canada s/he lives. With the exception of certain states and provinces, minors are generally unable to give medical consent and must therefore get permission from a parent or guardian to receive mental health treatment. This means their parent or guardian would theoretically have access to their health records and could even make healthcare decisions on their behalf. However, many professionals try to avoid divulging extraneous details unless absolutely necessary in order to maintain trust with their patients.
Deciding which information to share (or not)
Many people struggle with figuring out how much they should disclose to their loved ones about their mental health. It’s not easy to know where to draw the line, especially if there’s already tension in the relationship. However, patients should never feel pressured to reveal more than they’re comfortable with. Their mental health is their business. What they share is strictly their choice, and talking about it openly won’t affect the confidentiality they are owed by their healthcare providers.
Accessible mental health at your fingertips
Although the quality of mental health care is gradually improving, access to services remains limited for most people. We think everyone should be able to get the answers they need when they need them, so we’ve compiled an online library of hundreds of mental health resources created by experts in the field. Access is fully confidential and available 24/7. To find out more, book a demo with us today.
Also published on Medium.