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I have a relative who seems depressed and possibly suffering from OCD. She won't address these issues with her doctor. Is it unethical for me to call her doctor to express concern?


Question:  I have a relative who I think may be depressed and possibly suffering from OCD.  Her husband doesn't believe in mental disorders or therapy and medication.  He thinks everything is fine, but to us in the younger generation, we know she needs help. Is it unethical to call someone's doctor to express concern? I know she would never bring up her issues with her doctor on her own.

Dr. Amy:  Depression is a real medical condition just like cancer or diabetes, and it’s treatable with medication or a combination of medication and therapy. Older adults are at higher risk than the general population. That’s because depression is more common among people who already have other illnesses or physical limitations—and older people do, generally speaking. According to the Centre for Disease Control, 80% of older adults have at least one chronic health condition, and 50% have two or more.     

I encourage you to talk about your concerns with your relative, and offer to go with her to the doctor for assessment. If you’ve tried talking with her a couple of times and she declines to go to the doctor, you can write to the doctor outlining what you are seeing in your relative. It’s not unethical to do so. It is, however, both unethical and illegal for the doctor to communicate with you in return unless you have your relative’s written permission. If she is clinically depressed, she should feel much better with good medical care. At the same time, she is her own person and as long as she is mentally competent it’s up to her how to manage her health and wellbeing.

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