Your Rights as an Individual with Mental Illness

Discrimination against individuals with mental illness can occur in various capacities in both their personal and professional lives.

To ensure you are protecting yourself against discrimination, you should determine what your rights are in each situation. Like medical treatment, taking care of your mental health is important to your wellbeing, and understanding your rights can help ensure that you receive adequate and fair treatment. Whether you need to receive medical treatment, or you are seeking housing and employment opportunities, your rights should not be violated during these times. Under United States law, you are entitled to informed consent and confidentiality in all aspects of your life as an individual with mental illness.

Developing an understanding of your basic rights will allow you to make informed decisions regarding pivotal life circumstances. Preparation and prevention is essential to avoid issues regarding your rights as an individual with mental illness, regardless of the situation you find yourself in. This article will detail the rights you have at work and at home, so you can identify discrepancies, should they occur at any point.

Knowing Your Rights in the Workplace and at School

According to the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), mental health conditions are considered disabilities in the eyes of the law. Due to this development, you are entitled to specific rights in the workplace included within the ADA. You are entitled to freedom from discrimination, as well as freedom from discriminatory comments or harassment as a reaction toward your mental illness. The legality of the Americans With Disabilities Act specifies:

  • A prospective employer cannot refuse to hire you because of your mental illness if you choose to disclose your condition during the interview process. Furthermore, you are not under legal obligation to disclose a mental illness to a current or potential employer at any stage in the hiring or working process. If an employer is aware of your mental illness in advance, you are not obligated to answer any questions you may be asked regarding your condition. You do not have to willingly supply this information, either.
  • A university, college or other school cannot deny your rights because of your mental illness if they are aware of your condition during the enrollment process. A school is not allowed to refuse you admission on the grounds of your mental illness. Additionally, a school is not allowed to refuse you housing or other necessities because of a mental illness.
  • You have a right to request reasonable accommodations when it is necessary to finish a task or assignment. If you are struggling to complete a task due to complications from your mental illness, you may speak with your employer or professor about reasonable accommodations that will allow you to complete your work when you can. Asking for a deadline extension can be considered a reasonable accommodation request.

If you feel as though these rights have been breached, you may need to speak with a human resources representative for your employer or to a member of the school faculty who can assist you with your complaint. You have the right to be treated in the same manner as other employees and students who do not suffer from mental illnesses and will need to hold establishments responsible when they display discriminatory tendencies.

Understanding Informed Consent in Medical Matters

As an individual with mental illness, you have the right to informed consent as a means of making your own decisions regarding your medical treatments. Under the informed consent law, you are permitted to ask questions pertaining to your treatment options to ensure you understand the risks and benefits of each selection. You will want to be informed about the benefits and disadvantages of potential mental health treatments before choosing one form of care over another. In addition to your right to ask questions, you also have the right to decline treatment if you deem the care option undesirable. You do not have to consent to treatment you do not feel comfortable receiving. You also have the right to switch treatment providers if you feel as though your existing insurance plan does not encompass the care you need to treat your mental illness properly.

If your mental illness is severe and renders you incapable of making informed decisions, you can appoint a friend or relative to make these decisions on your behalf. In this scenario, you are using your informed consent right to permit a trusted individual to make healthcare decisions for you if you are in an unfit state to choose on your own accord. You do not have to appoint an individual to make decisions on your behalf unless your mental illness impairs your judgement. A court can appoint a guardian if you have impaired judgement. You may be subject to hospitalization against your will, but this is typically for extreme cases. Even in these types of cases, you have the right to get legal help and petition for a hearing. A court may order a treatment for your condition, although this is a ruling determined after a hearing.

Understanding Your Right to Confidentiality

You are entitled to confidentiality in a medical setting once you begin to receive treatment for a mental illness or condition. Your friends, family members or guardians cannot contact your healthcare provider to gain access to your medical records or current treatment details, unless you authorize the release of information to specific individuals. Additionally, employers and school administration boards are also barred from requesting a copy of your medical record without your permission. If you choose authorize a spouse or loved one’s access to your medical records or mental health treatment details for any reason, you must provide authorization in advance.

When you receive treatment for a mental illness, you are consenting to a confidentiality agreement between you and your doctor or therapist. This means your medical provider is not allowed to divulge information you share with him or her during sessions. Additionally, your medical provider has a legal obligation to protect your records from anyone who calls to ask for the information who has not previously gained authorization to do so. If your medical records are needed in a legal matter, a judge will need to issue a subpoena to obtain your health records from your healthcare provider.

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