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Mental Illness Guide: Care, Support, and Education
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Can my mental health worker talk to people about my mental health information?

No, Federal laws specify that all of a person mental health information has to be kept secret. This means that your mental health workers cannot talk about your illness and treatment with others unless you tell them they can. You have to sign a document that says you agree to let someone else learn your information. Anyone with information about your illness and treatment has to keep your records in a locked cabinet when your doctors or other people who treat you are not using them.

Do I have to say it is okay for my family to see my mental heath information?

You would think that you would not have to sign anything to say it is okay for your family to see your information. You may have a parent or a brother or a sister who is just as involved in your treatment as you are. You probably want them to be able to talk to your doctors about your treatment and how you are doing. But, it is against the law for your family to see your information unless you sign a paper, called a consent form, saying that it is okay. This means that your mother could not call the doctor and ask even the simplest questions, such as what medicine you are taking or when your next appointment is, unless you have signed a consent form saying that it is okay for her to know your medical information.

How do I let my family see my hospital information?

Usually, if a family member or close friend wants to see your mental health information, you have to say it is okay in writing. The paper which you sign to give someone permission to see your information is called a consent form. It must include the following:

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The date that you are saying it is okay for your family member to see your information, what information is being requested, and why this information is needed.

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Name of the person, agency or organization that the information will be given to.

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Your signature and the date you are signing the paper.

Under what circumstances can someone share my information?

There are some cases where your information can be given out without anyone asking you if it is okay. The mental health worker can give your information under the following conditions:

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If anyone else involved in your treatment, like your doctors or therapist asks for the information.

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If agencies who pay for your treatment at the hospital, such as your insurance company, asks for certain medical information.

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If you say something to someone on your treatment team that makes them think you may be in danger of harming yourself or someone else, they are required to share this information with someone who will be able to prevent this from happening.

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In a few cases, a judge could order your doctors or other mental health workers to give out your information.

Any information about your illness and your treatment that a hospital provides to someone is limited to only what the person absolutely needs to know. The hospital will not just give them your entire file and let them read whatever they want. The hospital will decide how much they need to know to accomplish their task, and only give them that information.

What do I do if I think someone shared my information without my permission?

Ombudsman / Patient Advocate

Each treatment provider is required to have a system set up where patients can file complaints if they have concerns about their treatment, the staff, or how they are treated. Each program has a patient advocate or an ombudsman on staff. This person's job is to help solve problems patients have. You should contact this person first if you have a complaint. Your therapist should be able to tell you who the patient advocates are and how to get in touch with him/her.

Advocacy Organizations

There are also organizations whose job is to help people with mental illnesses with their problems. The Mental Health Association has patient advocates on staff. They may be able to help you solve your problem. Call them at 1-877-391-3820.