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Mental Health Consumers’ rights

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.

What does the Americans with Disabilities Act do?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) 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. The ADA’s goal is to give the 54 million Americans with disabilities full and equal opportunities.

What are State Protection and Advocacy programs?
Each state, as well as the District of Columbia and the five Territories, has a Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness (PAIMI) program.Where problems are found, PAIMI programs pursue legal, administrative, and other remedies to ensure protection of rights for people with severe mental illness. People with disabilities who are not eligible for PAIMI services may be eligible for other programs within the Protection and Advocacy (P&A) system, such as the Protection and Advocacy for Individual Rights (PAIR) program or the Client Assistance Program (CAP).

Do I have a right to privacy?
Mental health providers agree to keep your meetings and what you discuss confidential. This means that what you say-as well as your diagnosis and treatment-cannot be disclosed to anyone, including family members, without your written consent.

What is an advance directive?
If you frequently seek and use mental health services, you may want to establish an advance directive. It is a legal document that lets you describe what services you want to receive if an illness renders you unable to make decisions about your care. Give a copy to your usual service provider(s) so that it can become part of your medical record.

What is ‘informed consent’?
Informed consent refers to when a patient agrees to undergo or participate in a medical or surgical procedure, treatment, or study after learning what is involved. Informed consent requires that a person know and fully understand the risks and benefits of a certain treatment or procedure.

Can I refuse treatment?
People generally have the right to consent to or refuse treatment. However, under certain conditions-such as when a person is considered a danger to self or others-he or she may be required to seek or receive treatment. Laws about commitment vary by state. If you have questions about the commitment process in your state, contact your State P&A program or consumer or family organization.

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