Imagine your partner experiences extreme mood swings: you’ve seen them at their lowest, you’ve seen them at their highest, you’ve seen them when they are well. You’ve “monitored” their mood, checked they’ve taken their medication, that they eat well, sleep enough. You’ve taken them to hospital and looked after them after discharge. You’ve done the lot. You’re their carer when they are unwell, their partner when alright, their confidant, significant other, next of keen, better half. You’re there day and night.
You start noticing that they are getting ill again. You are scared about yourself, afraid about what is due to come. You contact the health services to let them know and ask for help. They respond: “I am afraid we cannot speak to you without the written consent of your partner. It’s confidential."
Over 2,500 years ago, Hippocrates referred to “confidentiality” as “all that may come to my knowledge in the exercise of my profession or in daily commerce with men, which ought not to be spread abroad, I will keep secret and will never reveal.” This today forms part of the Hippocratic Oath taken by medical doctors and in most countries it is a legal right governed by various parliamentary acts and codes of practice that define professional relationships with patients and data protection.
Confidentiality has evidently lasted a long time and for good reasons. But carers of people with mental health problems do not always experience it positively.