If you have a mental health condition like depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), self-harming/suicidal behavior, addiction or another emotional/behavioral issue, you may be apprehensive about going to an adolescent mental health treatment center.
Many teens are nervous about going to a residential mental health treatment center because they think everyone is going to find out about it. Even though most short-term residential treatment centers are just a few weeks (30-60 days), that’s still a chunk of time during which people could very well notice your absence.
It’s a valid concern.
But let’s get the facts straight here so we can allay your fears.
Teen Mental Health and Addiction Treatment is Confidential
First things first: treatment centers cannot share anything about you without your consent. That means no one can find out that you’re in treatment unless you tell them.
Teen mental health treatment centers have very strict confidentiality laws established by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996. This means that adolescent mental health/addiction treatment centers are bound by law to keep the fact that you are in treatment private. The laws are so strict that even if, say, a friend or relative calls your teen treatment center and asks to speak with you, staff are not even allowed to confirm or deny whether you are even there – unless they are on a list of callers pre-approved by you and your therapist.
Some teens worry that going to mental health treatment is going to go on their public record. This cannot be further from the truth. Seeking treatment at a teen mental health facility remains, as far as public records are concerned, as confidential as going to the hospital for a broken bone. Unless you give your consent, no one in the world, besides your parent(s) if you’re a minor, will find out you went to treatment.
I’m Nervous About People Finding Out I’m In Treatment
And if you’re nervous about friends or family finding out?
Well, you can try to prevent that as much as possible by strategizing in advance.
If you’re worried about extended family – grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. – finding out you’re at a residential treatment center, ask your parents to help you keep it private. When nosy Great-Aunt Bertha corners your mom and asks why you’re not there at the family gathering, you can come up with a plan together in advance. For some relatives, a succinct “Oh, he’s not feeling well” might suffice. For others, “She’s really busy these days” will do the trick.
And if the relative tries to follow up? Your parents can come up with a vague nonresponse.
The same goes for nosy neighbors.
“In these situations, it’s really okay for parents not to tell the whole truth,” Lisa Faguet, LCSW, clinical program director of Evolve Agoura Hills, says. “The most important thing is that parents need to respect their adolescent’s privacy.”
Friends and Classmates
When it comes to friends and classmates, it’s a bit tricky. You don’t need to tell anyone you’re in mental health treatment, but you don’t need to keep it a secret, either. It’s a very personal decision, based on your comfort level.
You can choose to tell friends you are comfortable with knowing, but ask them not to disclose it to other people you don’t want to find out. Though, of course, there’s no guarantee that it will remain a secret among your social circles, especially if more than one person knows where you are. But you can do your best to keep it private.
While some of your friends or classmates may wonder where you are, that’s not your problem. If they ask you where you were upon your return, you can, again, come up with a vague nonresponse or simply imply you were sick – and now you’re better. If they keep prying, it’s okay to set some boundaries and politely tell them it’s none of their business.
You Don’t Need to Feel Ashamed About Your Mental Health Condition
At the same time, many teens feel that it’s much easier, and a relief, to let friends know that they’re going to mental health treatment. They don’t have the burden of keeping it a secret before or after they leave for residential treatment, and they can spend their time in treatment focusing on recovery.
Also, opening up to others about going to mental health treatment reduces the general shame and stigma of mental health conditions. Though it seems counterintuitive, telling others you’re going to treatment can help you be less embarrassed about the fact that you’re going.
Because, at the end of the day, there should be no shame that you have a mental health condition. Millions of teens around the world live with conditions like depression, anxiety, trauma, oppositional defiance disorder (ODD), non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and other emotional/behavioral issues.
Hopefully, realizing how many people are in the same boat as you can help you feel less embarrassed about your mental health condition.