A guide for young people that explains how and when information about your mental health is kept private.
Opening up to professionals about your mental health can be the first step to getting help. But it can also feel really scary.
You might feel confused about what they’re going to do with the information you tell them. Or you might be worried that they will share it with other people, like your family and friends.
We’re here to help you understand confidentiality, so you know how and when your information will be kept private.
This page covers:
Confidentiality is about keeping your information private.
It means that when you talk to professionals they shouldn’t tell anyone else what you’ve said.
Information that needs to be kept confidential includes:
For example, if you talk to your doctor and tell them that you’ve been feeling low, they can’t tell your parents or carers. They have to keep this information confidential.
“When I was looking up ways to help myself, I was too afraid of telling anyone the extent to which I was struggling because I did not want my parents to find out.”
There are lots of professionals you can talk to in confidence about your mental health.
Knowing that they’ll keep what you’ve said private can help you to feel safe and open up about what you’re going through.
The list includes:
Doctors and therapists have to follow special rules around looking after your confidential information.
Other professionals, like teachers, will follow their school or college’s own policy. It’s important to know that these policies will be slightly different everywhere.
Talking to people who care about you can help you to feel supported and less alone.
Most of the time, the more they understand what’s going on for you, the better they can help you.
When you do open up to your friends and family, they should respect your privacy and keep the information to themselves. Unless you’ve asked them to share it.
But it’s important to understand that they don’t have to keep your information confidential. They might also tell someone else what you’ve said if they are worried about you or need support for themselves.
For more information, see our page on opening up to family and friends.
“I spoke to a counsellor who attended school weekly and who helped me feel comfortable enough to speak about what I was struggling with, and how to deal with it better.”
You might be worried about what professionals will do with your information. For example, if you think your school counsellor might save your notes somewhere that other pupils can see them.
The law says that your information should be kept securely. This means it should be stored safely so that it can’t be accidentally deleted, lost, stolen or seen by someone else.
There are lots of different ways that professionals can keep your information secure. For example, they could keep your notes in a password-protected folder on a computer, or locked in a filing cabinet.
If you’re not sure how your information will be stored, you can ask the person you’re speaking to. They should be able tell you how it will be kept securely.
You usually have to give permission for your information to be shared. This is known as giving your consent.
People can share your information with your consent if:
In some situations, your information may need to be shared without your consent. This is called ‘breaking confidentiality’.
It should only happen if:
If the professional does need to tell someone what you’ve told them, they should always try to tell you first.
“It puts me at ease knowing they genuinely want what is best for you and will only share information to protect yourself and others around you.”
“I was absolutely terrified that by speaking to a professional my parents would be told. As I am of Asian heritage, mental health is a topic that is ignored and never discussed; there is a stigma attached to it.”
It’s important to know that this won’t always happen.
The person you’re speaking to will want to do what is best for you. For example, they will consider how you feel about your parents or carers knowing, and whether there are any risks to them knowing.
Their decision on whether to tell someone else will depend on:
If you’re not sure whether the person you’re speaking to will keep what you’ve said private, you can ask them.
If they say they need to tell someone, you can discuss this with them and agree on the best way to do this.
This might feel scary, but it’s important to remember that opening up can help you to get the right help and support.
For more information on self-harm, see our page on coping with self-harm.
"The most important thing I impress to students is that I will never run around with a blue flashing light on my head and turn things into a crisis." – Pastoral Lead in secondary school
If professionals wrongly share your information it can be very upsetting, but there are things you can do:
If you’re still not happy with the way the organisation shared your information, you could speak to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
It’s their job to make sure that organisations look after the information they hold about us. They can also investigate complaints about the way organisations handle information. To find out more, go to the ICO website.
You might want to see what information places like your school or CAMHS hold about you in their records.
Sometimes it might be quite easy to see this information. For example, you could ask your therapist to show you the notes they’ve taken in your sessions, and they might be able to share this with you straight away.
But in other situations, you might need to send an email or letter to ask for this information. When you ask for this information, it’s called a ‘subject access request’.
The organisation will normally take one month to reply to you. But if the request is very complicated, they may take a little longer. They’re never allowed to charge you for this.
There are a few situations when an organisation can refuse your request. This includes:
If you’re not happy with their response or feel that you’re not being listened to, you can make a complaint to the ICO. To find out more, go to the ICO website.
This is a trained professional who runs or supervises your therapy. Therapists help you explore how you’re thinking, feeling and behaving, and what can help you in the future.
There are different types of training and education for therapists. This means they all have different titles, like psychologist, therapist, counsellor or psychiatrist.Visit our full treatment and support glossary
Counsellors listen to you and give you a safe space to explore how you’re thinking, feeling and behaving. They also help you find ways to cope with things.Visit our full treatment and support glossary
An advocate is someone who can listen to you and help make sure your voice is heard in decisions about you.
If you’re in hospital for your mental health, you might be entitled to an Independent Mental Health Advocate (IMHA).
In Wales, everyone on the ward has the right to an IMHA. In England, only people who’ve been sectioned have a right to an IMHA. But some wards have advocates that voluntary patients can use too. Ask your care team for more information.
Advocates can support you in other situations too. If you live in England, you could contact VoiceAbility or POhWER who offer free advocacy services. If you live in Wales, you could contact the National Youth Advocacy Service.Visit our full treatment and support glossary
This is a document that sets out how an organisation will act in certain situations. For example, a transition policy should explain how an organisation will manage a young person leaving their services.Visit our full treatment and support glossary
This is when you agree to something, such as going into hospital or having treatment.
You can’t consent to something unless you are competent to (if you’re 15 or below), or you have capacity (if you’re 16 or above).
Being competent or having capacity means that you understand what you’re consenting to and what might happen if you say yes or no to it.Visit our full treatment and support glossary
This is a request to a service asking them to review:
The referral helps explain to the new service why they should see you, and what the best way to help you might be.
Sometimes referrals can be made by yourself, a family member or social worker. But they’re often made by your doctor as they understand your medical history.Visit our full treatment and support glossary
This information was published in May 2021. We will revise it in 2023.
References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.