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Friday, 25 July 2014 03:45 am

“Ex-psychiatric patient” tag for Studylink client

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WHEN a Studylink client recently visited the Willis Street branch, little did he expect to see a note on his file labelling him an “ex-psychiatric patient”.

It has left him shocked and uncertain about what other information may be held without his consent or knowledge.

The client had visited the branch to request a food grant,  and was able to see the case manager’s computer screen.

Mark* now wonders just how much additional information is kept on his file.

Mark said that while discussing his situation , he was able to read the computer screen and noticed the words “ex-psychiatric patient” in the far right column.

“I felt pretty stink.  Like a crazy person let out of an institution.”

Mark’s wife said she was appalled when she heard about the note on the file.

“That is not in any way relevant to his studies. Did they think he was ‘bludging’, using his mental health issue to get a food grant?”

She said his time in hospital was seven or eight years ago when he had been working full-time.

“Since then he has made real strides and fought hard to get to where he is today.”

A Ministry of Social Development (MSD) spokeswoman said that without the client’s name and case number it would be difficult to comment on an individual case.

“But as a rule we don’t keep such information unless the client has applied for something that directly relates to their disability, or mental health issue.”

She said that it could be that Mark had applied for some assistance through Winz and the information had automatically transferred to his Studylink files when he applied for a student loan.

However, Mark said the ideal scenario would be for that information not to be there in any form.

“I don’t see why they need to know that I have been in hospital.  How does that information help them?  What’s the point?”

He said he had no problem with his mental health issue, but said his openness had previously cost him a prospective job.

“I think there is a stereotype; like people with bipolar disorder can be dangerous and unpredictable, so I wonder if the note on my Studylink file was a sort of warning that I might be a danger?”

“And if they had it on their file, what about other government agencies?”

Mark’s wife said they both appreciated the mental health public awareness advertising such as John Kirwan’s campaign to demystify depression.

“But it looks like government departments are undermining the success of the campaigns by treating my husband as a stereotype.”

The MSD spokeswoman said she hoped Mark would agree to disclosing his details so that the matter could be further investigated and the information amended or deleted.

The couple have discussed the matter but Mark would rather not disclose his details at this stage.

Community mental health group Kites is supporting Mark through this issue, which it regards as a privacy matter.

Kites manager Eileen McAtee thought the file note might be a “red flag” for the case worker, but said, if that was the case, she would expect the same system to apply to a physical condition such as diabetes.

“There are layers of discrimination linked to the ‘ex-psychiatric patient’ label that are just not appropriate,” Ms McAtee said.

“Mental health consumers, and in fact everyone, need to know their rights.  That legally they can ask to know what information is being kept about them,” she said.

Darcey Jane, project manager with the Like Minds, Like Mine mental health awareness programme, said some government departments had not been keen to learn how to create safe environments for people with mental health issues.

The Like Minds, Like Mine programme, which is responsible for the “know me before you judge me” series of advertisements, is funded by the Ministry of Health.

Ms Jane said the questions she had were: who collected the information, for what purpose, and who passed it to Studylink?

“It shows a serious lack of the rigorous respect of privacy that we expect,” Ms Jane  said.

Health information privacy policy has been that Winz has powers to collect information about beneficiaries from other people or agencies, however they have been required to ask the client for the information first.

According to Ms Jane and Ms McAtee, there can be a power imbalance with discrimination and stigma for people with mental health problems.

Ms McAtee said Kites would be happy to offer training to Studylink.

Commenting on Mark’s previous bad experience when he disclosed his bipolar disorder to a prospective employer, Ms McAtee said there were pros and cons to doing this.

Advantages of disclosure:

  • The applicant could gain extra support in the workplace
  • Other staff and the employer could learn more about mental illness
  • Honesty from the start would help reduce the stress of being found out”
  • Disclosure would make it easier to plan for times of “unwellness”
  • Increased tolerance could help break down the stigma attached to mental health issues
  • When employed the applicant would gain support and respect from workmates

Disadvantages of disclosure

  • The applicant may face discrimination and stigma
  • He may risk not getting an interview or job
  • It may limit his chances of promotion
  • He may be perceived as less competent or undervalued
  • He may face double standards by being more closely watched than other employees
  • He may be blamed and bullied for any negative situation
  • He may feel isolated, different, embarrassed
  • He may face stereotypes and preconceived ideas about how people with a mental illness will behave
  • He may feel a pressure to prove himself

Advantages of non-disclosure

  • The applicant may find more job opportunities
  • He is unlikely to face discrimination
  • He will retain his personal rights, choices and privacy

Disadvantages of non-disclosure

  • If employed, the employee would not be able to get subsidies, support or have allowances made during any periods of “unwellness”
  • He could face potential job loss
  • He would be under stress of being found out
  • He might face personal ethical problems from not being open and honest with his employer

Mark* is not the subject’s real name.

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  1. Have posted Mark’s story on our new fb Kiwi Advocacy Forum. Link inserted https://www.facebook.com/KiwiAdvocacyForum#!/KiwiAdvocacyForum

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