James D. Huysman Psy.D., LCSW

Life in the Recovery Room

Please Allow Mindy to Rest in Peace

Stopping the media exploitation of the mentally ill

Posted Mar 08, 2013

Country songstress Mindy McCready died tragically by her own hand at the age of 37 on February 17.  Subsequent to her death her longtime battles with addiction and mental health issues had played out in the press.  

Country star Chely Wright ironically tweeted “…I hope that people are gentle with her memory.”  I so wish that was the case. 

While Nashville and country music mourned her passing, sending love and prayers to Mindy and her family, a highly questionable response was coming from mental health “professionals” who knew Mindy.

Cries of “exploitation” went up as the media ate up every word Dr. Drew Pinsky, the clinical face of Celebrity Rehab, had to say; and perhaps rightfully so. In interviews Dr. Drew made no bones about the fact that McCready was fearful about what the world thought of her mental illness. To betray her trust, especially after her passing, sounds like exploitation to me.

In my mind, it is shameful that Dr. Drew, a licensed MD, would speak so freely about a former client’s mental challenges in the media without considering her wishes or consulting her family upon her passing. To make matters worse her primary counselor from the show, Bob Forrest, joined the media circus, breaching all confidentiality about the clinical dark shadow of her dual diagnosis and every drama and trauma that he was allowed to hear in confidence.

While I’m sure that the original intention of addiction television was to bring the epidemic problem of alcoholism and addiction out into the open, it has created a new level of shame and stigma.  Who would have guessed that talk and reality-made clinical “stars” would become an exploitive rank and file in our field, making sure that no one would ever trust addiction professionals again!

Bob Forrest himself told the LA Times in 2011: “If I had to do it all over again I don’t think I’d walk into the office and say we should do this show. I don’t like the editing of it. I don’t like that they show the same thing over and over again. I don’t like what it’s become technically.”   

When operating by television rules, especially during sweeps, all ethics and boundaries are cast out the window. The Freedom of Information Act was never intended to be barrier to hide behind when it comes to common decency; although you’d never know that when it comes to the media frenzy surrounding a sensational story.  Drama sells, and celebrity drama sells even better.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) procedures are mandatory guidelines for every professional to follow with regard to divulging personal medical information.  The rights afforded to the living do not become moot upon one’s death.

There are seven patient rights afforded under HIPAA.  For purposes of this article, the two that are most important are the (1) right to request confidential treatment, and the (2) right to request restrictions of uses and disclosures.

I have no doubt that if more people knew what their rights are under HIPAA, and  exercised those rights, situations like this would not happen.

Hippocrates, the Father of Modern Medicine declared, “First, do no harm”.  As a longtime mental health advocate and addiction professional, I’m disgusted at the notion of returning the addiction and mental health field to the Dark Ages. Of all professionals I would like to ask: Is it worth losing your integrity to protect your job, paycheck and ego?

PLEASE, out of respect to what’s left of the McCready family and all suffering, dual diagnosed and recovering addicts and alcoholics in the world, close Mindy’s medical chart and let her rest in peace.