Know Your Rights
Navigating the healthcare system as a youth or minor
March 22, 2022 • 5 Min Read
Navigating mental health services can often be confusing and difficult. This is especially the case for many youth (14~19 years old), who face multiple barriers which adults are often unaware of.
Generally, we as youth are seen and socially constructed to be not yet “fully grown-up”. This means we are often seen as people who don’t know enough to take care of ourselves independently, and so we aren’t given as much power or legal rights that are given to adults. This inequity and unfairness shows up in many ways when we access the legal and medical systems:
- As youth are under the age of majority, we lack the legal rights and power that adults have. This could mean that we are more vulnerable to being forced to accept medical treatments that we do not want or be involuntarily hospitalised. Although there are laws and institutions in place to protect minors (such as https://kidshelpphone.ca/ and Child Protective Services ), using and being inside these systems can be scary, confusing, and difficult.1 We as youth, especially queer, trans, and Two-Spirit youth, often face additional difficulties from these organisations and people (including our parents or legal guardian), as they can be unsafe or threatening to queer youth, who face different obstacles from cishet2 youth.
- Service providers often have legal responsibility to report to Child Protective Services in BC when they suspect someone under 19 is in danger. This could pressure a service provider to break confidentiality even in situations where breaking confidentiality might not be necessary. Unfortunately, this means confidentiality worries or the threat of confidentiality being broken (and possibly causing things like unwanted hospitalisation) can make it hard for youth to trust3,4,5 and be honest with service providers.
- Additionally, the Canadian government has a history of abusing the power they have with the youth under their control (the Canadian Residential School system, and the sixties scoop, to list a few examples), especially Indigenous youth and youth of colour.6 These harmful discriminatory policies have long-lasting legacies, and their impacts are still felt today. These examples are just a few of many valid reasons for youth to not trust and even avoid service providers, both because of how youth are especially vulnerable when accessing service providers; and the many real examples of service providers (and the government they’re related to) not always acting for our benefit or with our best interests at heart.
All these factors mean that we, as youth, don’t have much autonomy or control over our own physical and legal safety and the healthcare we receive. The problems we face are unique to us as youth. These challenges also mean there are often fears or myths around accessing good quality healthcare. These fears and myths could prevent us from getting the quality healthcare we are entitled to, even if the fears and myths are untrue.
It is important to remember, regardless of your age:
You are always protected by human rights and patient rights; you have the right to be treated with dignity and respect, and not be discriminated against.
It can be difficult for us, as youth, to find reliable information, as many of our information sources are from other peers and their own personal experiences via social media. These experiences from word-of-mouth are valuable, but may not be applicable as everybody is different.
When you access healthcare, remember you always have the right to do the following:
- Consent to receive healthcare, if the doctor believes you understand the healthcare you are consenting to AND the doctor believes that the treatment is in your best interest.7,8 You do not need permission from your parents or legal guardians to consent; this rule is often called the Mature minor doctrine.
- Say no to a treatment or procedure you do not want, if a doctor believes you are capable of making healthcare decisions for yourself. even if your parents or legal guardians disagree with your choice.9
- Your doctor cannot break confidentiality, if they believe you are capable of making healthcare decisions for yourself.10,11
- Have information about treatments and medical options explained to you clearly and truthfully.12
- Ask and to know what a medical service provider can do, cannot do, and have to do (legal responsibilities)
Also, there are many service providers who help youth find the right medical professionals and treatment for them. Many youth resource centres have counsellors or social workers who are happy to help you navigate the healthcare system and point you towards the right direction; you can check some of these providers out in the MindMap catalogue. To get you started, here is a small list of service providers that the MindMap team has found to be helpful and recommended by our colleagues:
About the author:
Joanne is a computer science undergraduate student at the University of British Columbia. As a co-op student, Joanne supported the development and expansion of the MindMap project. She plans to pursue studies in clinical psychology and hopes to start a career as a psychologist who works with adolescence and young adults. She is interested in mental health, ethics in psychology research and clinical practice, sociology, and mathematics.
- Short for cisgender heterosexual. Cisgender means people who identify with the gender they are given (assigned) at birth, and heterosexual means a person attracted to a gender different from their own.
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