Mental health information is some of the most sensitive medical information.
Though advocates are working to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness,
social attitudes have associated it with violence and incompetence. In the past,
laws stripped people of their legal rights when they were admitted to psychatric
This stigma creates a great risk that people may avoid treatment for mental
illness if they fear that the fact of treatment will be revealed. They may also
limit disclosure of information in treatment if they are not confident that it
will be maintained strictly private.
If patients are clearly able to control their own mental health information and
keep it private, more people will seek appropriate and effective mental health
treatment. On the other hand, the mentally ill do present dangers to others on rare
occassions. In these instances, the privacy of mental health information may have
to give way to other values.
Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General (Chapter 7 —
Confidentiality of Mental Health Information: Ethical, Legal, and Policy
Issues), Office of the Surgeon General, Department of Health and Human
Services (December, 1999)