Health Policy-Advocacy: Know Your Rights

SAMHSA - Mary Ellen Copeland, M.S., M.A.

Everyone is entitled to the same civil rights and equal treatment, including people with disabilities or distressing symptoms. This is a list of some of your personal rights. You have the right to:

  • ask for what you want, to say yes or no, to change your mind and to make mistakes
  • follow your own values, standards, and spiritual beliefs
  • express all of your feelings, both positive or negative, in a responsible manner
  • be afraid and uncertain, and to do what you want and need to do for yourself anyway
  • have the friends and interests of your choice
  • be uniquely yourself and to change and grow
  • have your own personal space and time
  • be safe
  • be treated with dignity, compassion, and respect at all times

In addition you have, health care rights which will depend on Federal and State laws.

These health care rights much include:

  • know the side-effects of recommended medications and treatments
  • decide for yourself treatments that are acceptable to you and those that are not and to refuse medications and treatments that are unacceptable to you
  • a second opinion without being penalized
  • change health care providers - although this right may be limited by some health care plans
  • have the person or people of your choice be with you when you are seeing your doctor or other health care worker

If you are in a hospital setting or residential treatment program, in addition to the rights listed above, you may have the right to:

  • communicate in person, by sending and receiving mail, and by reasonable access to telephones, with the people of your choice
  • wear your own clothing
  • keep personal possessions, including toilet articles
  • privacy to perform personal hygiene tasks
  • a written treatment plan that you develop with input from your health care providers that is updated as your condition or treatment changes
  • be represented by a lawyer whenever your rights may be affected (you may have to pay a fee to be represented, unless you find a lawyer who will not charge you.)
  • the same civil rights, respect, dignity, and compassion, and in the same manner and with the same effects, as a person not in such a facility

The only time your rights may not be honored is if you are making unsafe requests or indicating in some other way that you may hurt yourself or someone else.

If you know that your rights are being violated, the first thing to do, if possible, is to ask the person, people, organization, agency, or institution that is violating your rights to stop doing that. If they don't stop, reach out for help. Depending upon the kind of violation, you could contact a counselor, mental health agency, law enforcement officials, or your local office of protection and advocacy. If you are unsure whether your rights have been violated, contact the agency of protection and advocacy in your location.


Sourced from Speaking Out For Yourself: A Self-Help Guide, SAMHSA booklet SMA-3719



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