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More Information on the Law

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More Information on the Law


Health Privacy, Confidentiality:

Because mental health care involves talking about personal matters, privacy is important to build the trust that helps treatment work. Federal and state laws are in place to protect health information privacy.

Learn more about health care privacy

The federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) protects information about diagnosis, treatment and personal matters shared in treatment. The rule also allows the provider to share limited mental health information in certain situations and emergencies. Mental health care providers also have to follow state health privacy law (§ 33-3-103/ 105).

  • The person can sign a form allowing providers to share information with family (§ 33-3-103):
    • An information release form allows providers to share certain information with family and others. It is best practice for the release to name specific individuals who may receive health information.
    • The person can limit the release to practical details such as appointments, medication instructions and emergency contacts.
    • The person can change the release at any time, including the end date or who can receive information.
    • Release forms can expire and require periodic renewal with signature to remain in effect.
  • Providers must offer regular chances to complete an information release (§ 33-3-109).
    The release can say:
    • Family or others to be told where the person is in care
    • Family or others to get information on discharge and service referrals
    • Family or others to involve in treatment.
  • Even without a signed release, state law allows hospitals to release information about the person’s overall medical condition to family members (§ 33-30-105).

  • You can share information with providers: Federal and state law does not prevent families from giving information to the mental health team even if no release has been signed. The provider may not be able to respond or acknowledge they know the person, but they can listen and use the information as they see fit.

When can I obtain treatment information about my loved one?

The HHS Office of Civil Rights provides , a clear and simple decision flow chart about family access to health information under HIPAA.

Right to Refuse Treatment:

A person who is committed to mental health hospital against their will still has the right to refuse treatment.

  • A person with capacity to make health care decisions (§ 33-6-1002) has the right to accept or refuse mental health medication and other treatments. Under Tennessee law, capacity means they can understand and repeat the name of the treatment, the risks, the benefits and other treatments for the condition.
  • A person who refuses care may be committed longer if symptoms still pose too much risk to meet standards for discharge.

Mandatory Outpatient Treatment, or MOT… (§ 33-6 Part 6)

is when the hospital decides to release the person but feels they need the force of law to stay with mental health treatment in the community. Under this law, a community provider must accept the person as an MOT client before the person can be assigned to them. The person must also agree to the provider’s MOT treatment plan (§ 33-6-603 (a)) before they can be released. Once the plan is signed, the person’s spouse or other adult family member in the home gets a copy of the treatment plan.  If the person does not come for treatment, the provider must report to the court. At that point, the court will hold a hearing and the person may be committed to hospital again.


This information is for education only. It is not a complete statement of the law and should not be relied upon for legal advice. This information is based on federal and Tennessee law. The law may change making this information inaccurate. For specific legal questions, please consult an attorney.