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Mental Health Consumers’ Rights

Your medical information is private

How much do you know about your right to privacy and other aspects of your mental health care?

  • Can your employer call a mental health facility to see if you are a patient there?

  • Can a landlord ask if you’ve been hospitalized for a psychiatric illness and refuse to rent to you if you have?

  • Can your therapist show your records to a family member without your permission?

  • Can your doctor refuse to give you a copy of your medical records?

The answers are no, no, no and no.

  • As a patient, you have certain rights. Some are guaranteed by federal law, such as the right to get a copy of your medical records, and the right to keep them private. Many states have additional laws protecting patients, and healthcare facilities often have a patient bill of rights.

  • Laws and policies give you protection over who can use and how they can use your medical information. Three of these are HIPPA, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Mental Health Patient’s Bill of Rights.

  • HIPAA: The Federal Health Insurance Portability And Accountability Act of 1996 protects the privacy of your health information gives you rights over your health information and sets rules and limits on who can look at. and receive, your health records.

  • ADA: The Americans with Disabilities Act ensures that people with disabilities, such as severe mental illness, have legal protection against discrimination in the workplace, housing and residential settings (including treatment facilities such as hospitals), public programs, and telecommunications.

  • Mental Health Patient’s Bill of Rights from the American Psychological Association provides principles regarding privacy rights, treatment and grievance procedures.

Read about these protections:

  • HIPAA: The Federal Health Insurance Portability And Accountability Act of 1996

  • ADA: The Americans with Disabilities Act

  • Mental Health Patient’s Bill of Rights

Teaming up with your doctor

The best relationship is a collaborative one

  • Knowing how to talk to your doctor and other members of your health care team can help you work together to keep you healthy.

  • Your doctor needs information from you to make an accurate diagnosis and determine treatment. There are no lab tests for mood disorders. And you need to let your doctor know what you want from him.

  • It's always a good idea to be an informed consumer. But to get off on the right foot, it's best to be respectful and avoid offering do-it-yourself diagnosis or prescribing. Your doctor relies on his/her experience treating people with varied symptoms who respond to treatment in different ways.

  • If you arrive at your visits prepared, you can both get the most benefit from them. Time is usually short. Information you can bring with you about your symptoms, background and life situations can be invaluable.

At your initial visit, provide:

  • A description of your symptoms - when they started, what makes them better, how often you've experienced them. If you know, tell your doctor what seems to set them off.

  • A list of family members who have had mental health problems. Family history provides important clues in diagnosing mood disorders.

  • An overview of your past psychiatric treatment, including medications and psychotherapy. Which meds worked, which didn't, and what side effects were troublesome.

  • Medical history and any medical conditions you are currently being treated for. Tell your doctor or nurse if you are pregnant or intend to become pregnant.

  • A list of your medications: prescription drugs, over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbal products, and other supplements you're taking. Don't forget to include contraceptives. And tell the doctor if you have any allergies.

  • Honest information about your diet, physical activity, smoking, alcohol or drug use, and sexual history. Withholding this information can be harmful.

  • Relevant life factors, such as past or current abuse or stressful lifestyle.

  • A notepad or tape recorder if you're worried you'll forget later what was discussed.

  • Your questions. If you're not clear about what your doctor or nurse is asking you to do or why, ask to have it explained again. "Can you help me understand that?"

At subsequent visits, bring:

  • Questions and concerns. Before your appointment, make a list of what you want to ask.

  • Answers to questions. Do you feel better or worse? What symptoms and side effects have you experienced?

  • Have you taken your medication on schedule? Keeping a mood chart or notes on a calendar will make it easier to keep track.

  • Information. Have there been significant changes in your life?

  • Patience. Doctors are often pressed for time. Your discussion may not be as long as either of you would prefer.

  • You may want to ask to set up another time when you can discuss an issue more extensively.

Mental Health Patient’s laws protecting patients