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Protecting Minors' Mental Health Privacy: Where’s the Line?

October 1, 2017 Susan Traugh

Balancing a minor's mental health privacy with a parent's right to discuss her child's mental illness is a moral dilemma. Where should parents draw the line?

Several weeks ago, another blogger triggered a heated discussion on a minor’s rights to mental health privacy when they suffer from mental illness. Readers chastised the author for disclosing too much information about her child. And that made me ask: where is the line when it comes to minor's mental health privacy.

Where Does a Minor’s Mental Health Privacy End?

I have the luxury of having three intelligent, introspective, articulate, adult children who all are challenged with mental illness and other disabilities. I have written about their struggles for years, and because I wrestle with that line, I have always run my writing past them for their approval. I write about them because I want the world to know how amazing they are and I want the world they grow into to be more accepting and understanding. So, I push my stories of their lives as far as I can—yet, even when they were children, I have always asked them first.

But, not everyone has that opportunity.

A Minor's Mental Health Privacy Vs. Public Education

I’ll be honest: I invade their privacy regularly. I don’t call them by name, but you could identify them if you tried. It’s a risk. But, my children and I have agreed that education and honest storytelling are powerful ways to debunk stigma, so they are willing to sacrifice.

Sometimes Education Is More Important than Protecting Minors' Mental Health Privacy

Sometimes that education doesn’t out my kids. But sometimes it does. I wrote a novel about a teen with bipolar disorder who finds the hero within herself. It was based on my daughter’s experiences and those of her peers. Many of the situations in the novel happened to somebody we knew. In one sense, the novel was basically true.

Yet, for years no publisher would buy my book. They said it was unreal, that no mentally ill girl would act like that, that bipolar didn’t run in families, and that doctors wouldn’t give so many pills. Each rejection was based on wildly inaccurate, stereotyped beliefs that made me realize the deep need for stories that educate a world blind to the struggles of our kids with mental illness.

Knowledge About Mental Illness is Power

Eventually, the book was published and recently I received a note from a girl who said it saved her life. She’d been hospitalized for a suicide attempt and given up hope. But then she read the book and identified with Amy, the main character. “I knew if Amy could do it; I could do it,” she said and went on to describe how knowing that Amy was based on a real person gave her the strength to carry on.

Stories can inspire. They can teach. They can even save lives.

So, Where’s the Minor's Mental Health Privacy Line We Should Not Cross?

I don’t think we can rely solely on statistics and facts to teach about mental illness—not if we want to win hearts and minds. We need stories—personal stories. And, mostly, we need true stories. We need to show the struggles of real people and the heroism of their successes. We need to talk about living with mental illness openly, honestly and with no shame. But, by its very nature, that violates privacy.

So, where does the world’s need to understand end and my children’s mental health privacy begin? Some of you will say my kids’ rights are absolute—yet, you’re reading this blog post. By that act, you are co-conspiring with me to invade my kids’ privacy. And so, I’m up at two a.m. writing this post because, despite my kids’ permission, I still struggle with that line.

Every. Single. Time.

On one side is the privacy and wellbeing of my children, and on the other is the truth and honesty needed to make the world more accepting of them. Thoughtful, well-intentioned people will draw the minor's mental health privacy line in different places. But, wherever we draw it the problem is this: although something will be gained—something will be lost.

APA Reference
Traugh, S. (2017, October 1). Protecting Minors' Mental Health Privacy: Where’s the Line?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, June 19 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/parentingchildwithmentalillness/2017/10/protecting-childrens-privacy-wheres-the-line



Author: Susan Traugh

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