Confidentiality

Most of what you say to health workers is confidential and confidentiality is a really important part of healthcare. They are bound by law to report certain things though. The laws vary between states, and depending on what age you are. You shouldn't keep it a secret if a friend says they want to kill or hurt themselves.

This could be for you if:

  • You want to know what you doctors and other health workers can and can't keep secret 
  • You want to know how age affects confidentiality 
  • You want to see a counsellor but are scared that they might tell other people your problems 
  • You want to get treatment like the pill or counselling, but you're underage
Blonde girl with braces

What does confidentiality mean?

If something's confidential, it means that it's private, and is not going to go past the person you told it to. It's like the unspoken (or spoken) agreements between friends to keep certain information private.

By law, doctors and other health professionals like nurses, psychologists, psychiatrists and counsellors have to keep most of what you tell them confidential. Your counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist should talk to you about confidentiality in your first session. You should ask about it if you're worried and you should try to get a clear understanding of what is confidential, and what is not.

In certain cases, like where they're stopping you coming to serious harm, they might have to tell people like DOCS, your family or carer, or, in very rare situations, a court or the police.

No health worker should ever break confidentiality unless the situation is really serious and they feel like they have to. If a doctor or counsellor decides it's necessary to report something, it doesn't mean they don't care or don't respect you – it's probably the opposite. They'll have decided to tell a small number of people who have to know to stop things getting far worse. They will normally talk to you about it first.

If you're using an interpreter to talk to doctors or other health workers, they also have to keep what you said private.

Is this important?

Yes, this is important. It's hard enough to talk to someone about serious issues without worrying about where that information will go. You've got to build trust with the person you're working on stuff with, so talk to them about confidentiality and get on each other’s wavelength so you know what is and is not private.

If you're underage?

If you're over eighteen, what you tell health workers is automatically confidential, unless there's a risk of someone being seriously harmed or killed.

If you're under eighteen, you should see our 'Age and Confidentiality' fact sheet for important info about how your age affects confidentiality.

Illegal stuff

Some health workers have to report crimes, depending on how serious they are. Doctors don't have to report that you're using illegal drugs or having sex while you're under-age if you tell them this, but other health workers might. Make sure you ask, so that you are aware of this and don’t get any surprises.

A doctor does have to break confidentiality if they think you're at risk of harm or in danger. If you tell them you're involved in a serious crime (like murder, drug-dealing, sexual assault or assault), they might have to report it. Again, ask.

If you're not sure what someone does and doesn't have to report about, ask and they will tell you.

Secrets and friends

You should pass it on if a friend tells you they want to kill or seriously hurt themselves. You should also try to get them to tell someone who can protect or help them, like a youth worker, counsellor, teacher, social worker or someone else trustworthy.

What can I do now?

Last reviewed: 20 August, 2015
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4 Comments

  • Ben-RO    (68 days ago)

    Hey @Josh0198 Sending you the same message over here just in case the commenting system isn't working too well right now :) It's definitely a good idea to talk if you're feeling depressed or suicidal and a lot of the time parents can be pretty awesome people to talk to, I am sure they would want to know and to help. However if you're not ready to share that with them just yet, that can be okay too, still it's important to talk to someone who knows how to help right now. I reckon it'd be good to have a type or talk to www.kidshelp.com.au you can chat to them via text, on video or over the phone :) You could also come over to our forums if you're not sure what to say or feel a bit worried about what might happen and we can talk you though that there :) http://forums.au.reachout.com/

  • Ben-RO    (68 days ago)

    Hey @Josh0198It's definitely a good idea to talk if you're feeling depressed or suicidal and a lot of the time parents can be pretty awesome people to talk to, I am sure they would want to know and to help. However if you're not ready to share that with them just yet, that can be okay too, still it's important to talk to someone who knows how to help right now. I reckon it'd be good to have a type or talk to www.kidshelp.com.au you can chat to them via text, on video or over the phone :) You could also come over to our forums if you're not sure what to say or feel a bit worried about what might happen and we can talk you though that there :) http://forums.au.reachout.com/

  • Josh0198    (85 days ago)

    Is it a good idea to tell a parent if you're depressed or suicidal? because I think its better to talk to a close friend or a sibling. I feel like sometimes it's uncomfortable to tell your parents about those types of things.

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