When we’re struggling with a mental health issue, oftentimes the last thing we want is to announce it from the rooftops. In fact, your story getting out before you’re ready to share it can have very detrimental effects on your mental health and can lead to feelings of shame and depression, worsening your problem even more.
This is why anonymity is a large component to AA meetings; they want to protect those who are being vulnerable.
For many people who are struggling with an addiction or severe mental health disorder, going to AA or NA meetings simply isn’t enough. They need more intensive care by professionals, and with this care comes the worry of people “finding out.”
In this article, we’ll explore ways to ensure your confidentiality and privacy are protected as you seek treatment services.
Determine what treatment you need
So now, you’ve decided you want to get help. But what does that help look like?
If you’re actively struggling with a substance abuse problem, the best option is inpatient treatment. Here, you’ll have a team of dedicated medical and psychological experts to help you physically recover from your addiction, as well as mentally recover.
Inpatient treatment is typically 30 to 90 days in length, and you live at the facility for this time. As you’re working through the emotions, beliefs, and triggers that led to your addiction, it’s often a nice reprieve to be in a safe environment where you can fully open up and not have to worry about any of the other 100 things typically on your plate in your normal life.
Also, keep in mind the size of the program. If you go to a program with 100 people, you’re of course going to be more exposed. However, if you go to a program with less than 10 clients (The Exclusive Hawaii is a good example of this) you’ll run into far fewer fellow residents.
Another treatment option is outpatient treatment, where you attend anywhere from 9 to 40 hours of therapy in a week. With this option, you continue living at home and are still able to work if you want. Outpatient is often best suited for people who have completed residential care, but it can be an option for people who aren’t in a position to be able to attend residential treatment.
If you’re not sure about the severity of your addiction or mental health condition, a good first step is to meet with a therapist. He or she can help you determine if they think you need additional care outside of their office.
Depending on your situation (and if substances perhaps aren’t involved), the therapist may recommend simply meeting with them several times a month, to see if that helps you improve your mental state.
Be discreet at work
For the rest of this article, we’re going to pretend that you chose to attend inpatient, or residential, treatment.
When protecting your privacy, one of the biggest concerns for people is how to tell their job where they’ll be. Some people may not be comfortable sharing these personal details of their life, while others may worry about judgment from their colleagues or bosses.
Whatever the reason is behind the fear, it’s often best to give a broad but factual answer.
So, you could go to your boss with a letter from your doctor, stating that you need to have 45 days of medical leave. You can leave it simply at this, not explaining what the “medical leave” is for at all. If your boss asks any follow up questions, say that this is a very sensitive time for you, and you’d appreciate if they respect your privacy.
If you feel comfortable sharing with your boss about what you need to take time off, know that they are legally obligated not to tell any of your coworkers about the reason behind your leave.
In your personal life, try to follow the same guidelines. Tell your friends that a medical situation has come up, and you’re going to be gone for a while. (You can tell them its non-life-threatening if they become very worried.)
Don’t be pressured into revealing more than you want to, but trust your gut when deciding who you want to open up to. Having the support of a few close friends or family members while you’re in treatment can make all the difference in motivating your work and supporting you on those tough days when you’re in treatment.
Find an accredited facility
When researching treatment centers, finding one that is licensed and accredited is key.
When a program is accredited, it means they went through a rigorous vetting process, including an on-site visit, interviews with the staff, and careful monitoring of the program’s medical and therapy practices.
Additionally, the program has to adhere to strict confidentiality protocols and procedures to maintain their certification, so you know your personal information will be safe with these facilities.
If you’re not sure what accreditation to look for, two of the most popular accrediting agencies for addiction treatment are CARF and JCAHO.
Travel for treatment
So say you’ve found two wonderful, accredited programs you’re going back and forth between. One is five minutes away, and the other is five states away.
If privacy is a real concern for you, consider traveling a distance for your treatment. Why? Because the chance that you’ll just happen to run into someone you know (either in your program or during an excursion) will be extremely small.
Additionally, if you’re open to traveling for treatment, you’re considerably widening the pool of potential treatment centers. Now, you can choose one that is known for its privacy practices and secluded environment. These may even include special procedures to fly you in without attracting much notice, as well as the option of having a private bathroom and bedroom.
While it can be freeing to take ownership of your experience and your struggles, it’s vital that this is done on your clock. It takes time and work to come to terms with your own unique struggles, and that sacred connection should never be breached.
If you take the time to research what type of treatment you need, as well as finding an accredited program far away, you’re setting yourself up for success.