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
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.
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.