Mental Health Legal Centre Inc.
Confidentiality of your mental health information
Confidentiality is protected by laws including the Mental Health Act that exist to make sure people respect and protect your mental health information.
If people want to give out your mental health information, they need to ask your permission first. If they do not have permission, they cannot disclose your details unless the law says it is ok and there is a good reason for doing so.
Tip: Request clear and straightforward information from your health services provider about their policies on confidentiality and what to do if your rights are breached
Health Care Professionals
All health care professionals, including doctors, psychiatrists and nurses, must understand and follow these laws. Generally they should only use your mental health information for what it was collected for (e.g. your treatment and care). Sometimes the law says it is ok to disclose information. This includes when:
- It is done with your consent
- Your treating team discusses your treatment with each other
- It is to prevent harm to you or another person
Health services need to share information as part of your ongoing treatment.
For example, when your GP has to contact a mental health service
Even if health services are allowed to give out your information, this does not mean your life is an open book. Staff should only disclose information on a strictly ‘need to know’ basis. This means they are not allowed to discuss you with people who are not involved in your treatment, such as their friends or family. It could be a breach of confidentiality if your personal information is disclosed to someone else during a conversation that is overheard.
Tip: Ask the staff what information they have to share with other people and why. Think about whether it is reasonable for them to share this information.
People you know
Your friends, family and carers have to respect your confidentiality. Generally your friends cannot access specific details about your mental health unless you say it is ok. Family, guardians or carers should only get access to these details if:
- You agree
- They need the information to provide care to you. Remember, there is a difference between ‘caring about’ someone and providing care to them
- They need to know you have been made an involuntary patient
- It is to prevent harm to you or another person.
Tip: If you do not want your health service to give information to certain people, you should make them aware of this. Write a letter to your health service saying who they can and cannot speak to and make sure it goes in your medical records.
Ambulance and Police
Health care professionals can contact the ambulance service and the police if it is essential for reasons including:
- Transporting you to a mental health service
- Preventing a serious threat to your health or safety
Tip: Discuss with your treating doctor what you want to keep private. Ask them what they are going to keep confidential.
Medical staff, including GPs, nurses and psychiatrists, can give information to Child Protection if they have reason to believe that a child is in danger. But their belief must be based on evidence – rumour or gossip is not enough.
If you believe your confidentiality has been breached, take action as soon as possible. First complain directly to the organisation involved. The Mental Health Legal Centre, your case manager, VMIAC or a consumer consultant could help you do this. You can also complain to the Health Services Commissioner (HSC). The HSC has the power to investigate your complaint and go through mediation. If the HSC process does not resolve your concerns, you can ask for your complaint to be referred to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).
Breaches of confidentiality are serious. People who use your information the wrong way may be fined. It is always a good idea to speak to a lawyer about this, because the laws are complex and time limits apply. Call the Mental Health Legal Centre for free legal advice.
Tip: If you think someone has done the wrong thing, try to find out the facts about what happened and why. Speak to the person involved or get access to your file.