Have you ever been treated by a psychologist or psychiatrist? Have you ever had a nervous condition? A problem with drugs or alcohol?

Wait. Before you answer, consider these three stories:

A divorcee is seeing a psychiatrist. She pays nearly double what other women of her age pay for life insurance.

An editor states on a disability insurance form that she'd received weekly psychotherapy. She is denied the amount of coverage she wants.

A computer operator was treated for drug abuse and subsequently hospitalized for psychiatric problems. A year later she is turned down for life insurance.

And these:

A life insurance company executive, recovering from alcoholism, lies about it on his "own" life insurance application, even though he has gone six years without a drink.

A psychologist pays for her own therapy rather than file for reimbursement through her health insurance company.

An insurance broker with three mentally ill children omits this fact when applying for life insurance coverage.

The divorcee, the editor and the computer operator didn't know any better than to tell the truth. And they wish they hadn't.

The executive, the psychologist and the broker are all in the field of insuring or the field of treatment. And they believe that, to get insurance, you have to lie about having had treatment. Or troubles.

If you have had a brush, or a head-on collision, with drug or alcohol addiction or with depression, they say, lie about it. No matter how long ago it was or how well you have recovered, lie. And not just on insurance forms, but on applications for jobs and even loans.

"I don't believe that anyone in this day and age should tell the truth. The stigma's too great," says Paul Fink, outspoken former head of the American Psychiatric Association.

The fear of that stigma is such that for many, lying has become a necessary evil. "I don't think there is any question," Fink says. "People are stigmatized for having the slightest deviation from whatever America's perceived norm is."

To the insurance industry, it is strictly a numbers game: Providing mental health care, disability payments or drug and alcohol rehabilitation is very costly.

"Insurance companies want to cover people who are very healthy and have the probability of staying that way," says Philadelphia therapist Gail Davidoff. "They make a very cautious assessment of risk."

Statistics show that former alcoholics, drug addicts and people who've received psychiatric care have increased morbidity and mortality, says Paula Romano, director of underwriting at Prudential Insurance Company of America. If coverage is available, the higher premiums -- often significantly higher -- reflect the insurer's perceived risk.

At Prudential, for example, an alcoholic who has been through rehabilitation once and is alcohol-free for a year may be considered for health insurance with an extra premium charge ranging from 25 percent to 100 percent, according to contract consultant Charles Calcagno.

"Abusers tend to be repeaters," says Eleanor C. Nelson, medical director of Independence Blue Cross in Philadelphia. "A lot of them do not recover.

"Health insurance was originally designed to cover acute medical care ... people get treated, they get better. You can predict, actuarially, what the risk is. With drugs and alcohol it's harder to determine risk. The same with psychiatric (problems). There doesn't seem to be any ending point."

Jim Hunt, a Boston actuary, is even blunter. "Mental health benefits have to be very carefully screened or you'll take gas as an insurer. Mental health benefits are abused. People want to see a shrink to see why they're not getting along with their grandmother. Are you kidding?"

"People with a mental health history will have great difficulty in getting health or disability insurance," says Benjamin Lipson, Boston insurance broker and author of "How to Collect More on Your Insurance Claims" (Simon and Schuster). "I think that's understandable and reasonable because of the theory you can't expect to get fire insurance on a burning building."

He advises those who have escaped their own burning buildings to shop around for an insurance company that doesn't ask so many questions or probe so deeply into a person's history. (Insurers can cancel a policy within two years if they find the applicant misrepresented his or her medical history.)

At least one big insurer takes a different tack entirely. Kemper Life Insurance Companies of Long Grove, Ill., particularly prides itself on insuring the recovering alcoholic.

"We want to eliminate the recovering alcoholic's dilemma of falsifying application information, paying inflated rates for 'substandard' health, or living without life insurance," states its brochure entitled "Are Recovering Alcoholics Insurable?" Smiling from its pages is retired board chairman, James S. Kemper Jr., a recovering alcoholic himself.

Kemper is not just being sentimental. The company's actuarial statistics show that once alcoholics are at least two years into a solid program of recovery, they are at no greater risk of illness or death than members of the general population.

But Kemper is the rarity.

For those who carry the burden of mental illness, insurers may be less forgiving. "Mental illness is somehow (considered) the fault of the individual, or not legitimately a disease," says Ron Honberg of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, an advocacy group. "One of the things we've really pushed is that mental illnesses are no-fault diseases. They are not caused by bad parenting or immoral behaviors."

Meantime, though, questions regarding treatment are showing up with more frequency: home equity loan applications, insurance applications, applications for employment, professional licensure, school, fellowships.

It is difficult to determine the actual consequences of being honest when filling out any given form -- few people ever learn why they are denied a job or admission to a school.

One psychiatrist believes that if you want to be a surgeon, you would be ill-advised to use your medical school's insurance if you're seeing a psychiatrist. It could kill your chances for a residency, he says, quickly adding, "I can't prove that."

This doctor once downgraded a depressed patient's medication to disguise the severity of his problem when he applied for scholarship aid.

"We are operating on the fringes of paranoia," the psychiatrist admits.

A psychologist, who has been in therapy for years, never lets this be known on any form. "I wonder about why they want to know and what they're doing with the information," she says. "I think it's none of their business." She counsels her patients to lie as well. "I would think someone was very naive if they said yes."

Some professionals advise telling the truth when there have been serious illnesses -- multiple hospitalizations for psychiatric care or re-admissions for drug or alcohol problems. They fear there's a paper trail that is too easily traced.

"If, on the other hand," says therapist Davidoff, "the person comes for an adjustment problem -- a relatively common experience, a marital problem, a problem with the kids, if they're unclear about their career path -- I will ask them what purpose will be served by telling the truth."

Even a loan application could pose a question like this: "Do you have any mental disorders?" says Hunt, a board member of the National Insurance Consumer Organization.

That question is, of course, wide open for interpretation. "A person would be silly to answer that question 'yes' if they're merely seeing a psychotherapist for adjustment problems," he says.

Professional standards dictate that information regarding treatment not be released without the patients' permission -- not by hospitals, or doctors, or insurers such as Blue Cross.

So "the great irony is that, because of the confidentiality of these things, unless the person is forthright, the information is not available," says Donald Levin, medical director of Northwestern Institute, a suburban Philadelphia psychiatric hospital. But, "once it's made available (to anyone, by the patient), it's in the computer forever."

"I was stupid," says the editor, who filled out disability insurance forms truthfully and was denied the amount of coverage she wanted. Still, she continues to give an honest account -- that several years ago she was seeing a psychologist once a week for relationship problems and that a family member had psychiatric problems -- when applying to other insurance companies.

"I might as well. The information is in the computer and they're going to find out anyway," she says.

Despite a letter from her former therapist attesting to her mental health, the editor tried to upgrade her disability coverage with a new company recently and was denied its top policy.

This idea of a paper trail -- that once the information is in the computer it follows you forever -- is pervasive. "How much of that is fact, how much is fantasy, I don't know," says psychologist Fred Wright, at the Center for Cognitive Therapy in Philadelphia.

Some of the wariest types are wariest of the Medical Information Bureau (MIB), a nonprofit trade association of 750 life insurance companies. In its stated interest of preventing fraud, the MIB exchanges underwriting information among its members. But, according to MIB vice president James Corbett, fewer than 20 percent of all life insurance applicants even find their way into its data bank -- those with conditions that might affect health or longevity.

The MIB maintains that only member insurance companies have access to the coded information. "It is not information made available to employers, to credit agencies, or anyone else," Corbett says. Data exist on 13 million people; after seven years, a person's report is electronically removed from the MIB file.

Yet the idea that one's medical history is widely available is held by many mental health professionals, as well as some in the insurance industry. There is great skepticism about the notion of absolute privacy. "Everybody tries to be very careful about who we give information to," Fink, the psychiatrist, says. "But are there flamboyant cases of disregard of confidentiality? Yes."

The fear is such that "there are a number of people who don't use their {health} insurance -- lawyers, people in the military ... high-level people," says Philadelphia therapist Susan Mathes. "They don't trust that any information about being in therapy would not somehow block their way up the corporate ladder."

Fink and others believe that the prejudices against treatment run deep -- and that insurers often fail to distinguish between the "worried well," and the severely impaired.

"All psychiatric care, whether it was 10 years in the hospital or two years of psychotherapy twice a week, is considered equally bad," Fink says.

"Insurers are very prone to see {patients or ex-patients} as an increased risk, even though people in therapy come out better, are less of a risk. They think the person will go off the wall, kill somebody, kill themselves, who knows? It's irrational."

Charlotte Linder, an agent with Mid-America Group Inc. in Philadelphia, believes underwriters do "take a reasonable look at these things."

"In our middle-class world today, I don't know any people who haven't been in therapy," she says. "The underwriters take this into account. They don't think these people are going to jump off a cliff."

But some mental health professionals such as Davidoff believe insurance companies are becoming more cautious, with more stringent restrictions, as more and more people avail themselves of treatment.

"I hope one day we could evolve as human beings so it is not a factor whether a person is recovering or has received therapy," says Rich Buxton, Philadelphia director of Human Affairs International, which runs employee assistance programs for hundreds of large corporations.

He and others, such as Northwestern Institute's Levin, don't like to advise people to lie, but feel it necessary to point out the possible ramifications of their disclosures.

"I don't want people to go through life keeping this dark secret," Levin says. "But I don't want people to go out and commit hara-kiri either."