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Kaleidoscope of the Heart: The right to not talk about our illnesses

Rika Kayama

Should celebrities really have to reveal in detail about their illnesses or those of their families? Many people have probably had this doubt. In today's world, whether celebrities reveal this information or not, sooner or later it will become known and reported on. In that case, these celebrities think, they might as well go ahead and reveal the disease themselves and say. "Don't report any further on this, please." Even if they do that though, they attract attention and become the target of a rush of reporting.

    An acquaintance of mine who is active on television said, "If I reveal my illness, more people may get screened for it." And in fact, in my consultation room I sometimes hear patients say things like, "I saw an actress saying on television that she had colon cancer, and I realized for the first time that women can get colon cancer, too. I'm going to get checked."

    Celebrities act as a familiar and accessible way for us to learn about the world. Yet, I feel sorry for them when I see them talking about their health or illnesses, which is very personal information, in front of the camera and being asked by reporters about their ailments.

    How about us common people? We aren't forced to talk about our illnesses in front of the public eye. However, for people who are working, they have to submit a doctor's diagnosis to their workplace to take time off for treatment. For things like volunteer or PTA activities as well, people must give the reason when they want to take a break. When people give out this information about their illnesses, they surely think, "I hope this doesn't get out and spread like a rumor."

    The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare treats workers health as a type of personal information that "especially requires delicate handling" and sends guidelines to workplaces on how to treat the information. They mustn't, for example, leak out a doctor's diagnosis to a third party who doesn't need to see it. However, I sometimes even now hear of workplaces where the custom when taking a long break for treatment is to tell coworkers what the illness is and seek their understanding. If the person taking time off wishes to do this then it is not so bad, but they surely also have the freedom and right to not widely give out this information.

    We need only talk about our illnesses to those who have to know about it, and really it should be the same for celebrities. If a celebrity were to say, "A family member is battling a disease. Please withhold from pursuing the issue any further," we should respect this and leave them alone. And of course when we don't want to talk about our illnesses, we don't have to. Not all information has to be released. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)

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