Should she have told us about her bipolar disorder since she was living with us?

My husband and I are in our 50’s. Six years ago, “Said Woman,” a woman in her mid-thirties moved to our town and joined our church. She got very involved in our projects and we were thrilled to have a “younger” person working so hard on our church projects, even though we noticed that she talked non-stop, took on more work than a person could reasonably finish, and told wild stories about where she had worked.

After a series of personal setbacks, we agreed to allow Said Woman to move in with us and use our third vehicle. There were numerous times that she did not do something she had promised she would do and we noticed that many people avoided her after meeting her. We later found out after she made threats of suicide that she is mentally ill, after her father and brother came to get her.

Her father and her brother knew/know she’s ill and not in treatment. Both her father and brother knew of her close relationship with me and my husband. On two separate occasions when I was staying with the father and step mother, they could have easily talked to me privately. All of them had our email addresses and phone numbers.

Shouldn’t they have warned or even suggested we should be aware if certain behaviors start? If they should not have warned us, why not?

Why should my husband and I be “collateral damage” to an illness her family knew she wasn’t treating?

Where do we go to get those years of OUR lives back? How do we recapture OUR ability and willingness to trust people and help people again?

Where do Said Woman’s privacy rights to be sick stop and our rights to be warned

Thanks in advance for your time,


Thank you so much for writing in. I am so sorry that you have had such a hard time and that this person hurt you so much. I hope that once she has received treatment, she will realize that she needs to make amends.

As far as whether or not her family should have told you that she has a mental illness, I would ask you what you would want if you were Said Woman. As a person with bipolar disorder, I struggle with who to tell every day. I have had to live with the stigma of being mentally ill and, when I tell friends/acquaintances/employers, often those people look at me differently than they did before. Because of that stigma, there are times that I choose not to tell people. Would it be fair to me if my family chose who to tell for me? We have HIPPA laws which protect our privacy and, just as you would not want your family to tell all of your friends about your medical history, Said Woman shouldn’t have to worry about that either.

It seems from your email that you had a long period of time to get to know Said Woman.  I am wondering if you chose to overlook behaviors that were clearly irrational because she was such a help to you with her volunteer work and why you did not ask Said Woman (or her family) if you were noticing behavior that did not seem normal.

Where Said Woman’s rights stop is when she is a threat to herself or others. If that is not the case, than her privacy rights are stronger than your right to be “warned” by her family. And, because her family got involved when she threatened to commit suicide, obviously they care enough about her to get her treatment. As an adult, she has the right to refuse treatment, however, just as you would have the right not to follow a doctor’s instructions to change your diet, stop smoking, exercise, take medication for high blood pressure or diabetes, etc. If you chose to ignore your doctor’s suggestions, do you think it would be okay for your family to go around “warning” your friends that you might have a heart attack, stroke, etc.?

Unfortunately, you can never get a period of your life “back.” I would try taking a different point of view and not see yourself as “collateral damage.” You attempted to help someone who clearly needed help, which means you have empathy. It also appears that you were taken advantage of, but remember that only you can allow that to happen. This might be a lesson as to when you say no to someone who is asking something unreasonable of you.

It sounds like there were obvious warning signs that Said Woman had a problem that you chose to ignore. I don’t know how you begin to trust people again, but just because you had a bad experience with one person does not mean that everyone is untrustworthy. I have struggled myself with knowing who to trust a great deal because I have a mental illness. If you are a good person (and it sounds like you are), then you continue to trust people, but move into new relationships with more awareness of what the other person is doing and saying. If something doesn’t sound right, you always have the option of walking away.

You cannot regain the six years that you invested in this relationship. I suggest that you try to think of what you gained from it as opposed to what you lost. And it may be that Said Woman will come back and ask both for forgiveness and to make amends. I would use this as an opportunity to examine what you learned and see if there is anything positive that you can take from the relationship.


4 thoughts on “Should she have told us about her bipolar disorder since she was living with us?

  1. There are many complex issues in this letter that deserve equal attention, but the most important might be that those people who have bipolar disorder spend a lifetime trying to “fit in” and to be accepted as “normal.” For them, each day can be a new beginning, a chance to start over and be that “normal” person they so much desire. With that in mind, it is often very difficult for them to disclose medical information and to trust people. Most people with bilpolar illness don’t begin relationships with the thought that they are going to sabotage through behavior… just happens when the mania takes over. Things are great until they aren’t. Other than the fact that you felt betrayed by the non-disclosure, you haven’t mentioned any specific “damage” that was incurred. If this is true, perhaps researching this disorder might help you gain enough knowledge to offset the bitter feelings. For instance, information helps people understand that the treatment for bipolar disorder can often be as difficult as the disorder itself. It’s not just a matter of popping a daily pill and all will be well! The meds can be very debilitating and lifechanging. They are definitely not a magic wand so some who are afflicted stop taking meds for awhile and the symptoms escalate. In a perfect world people might trust enough to disclose. In a perfect world, people who learn that a friend has bipolar illness would not judge.

  2. Thank you so much for that response. I feel as if this is the reason that people with bipolar do not tell. We are so judged on any negative behavior. People always have the option of walking away from any relationship that is not working for them.

    From a personal standpoint, I would be absolutely horrified, embarrassed, and ashamed if my family were to go around “warning” my friends/co-workers/people I volunteered for that I have a mental illness. I work very hard at making every day a new start and making amends if my behavior ever causes a problem. I do not feel that anyone has a right to know that I am bipolar unless I choose to share that information. And the law backs me up on this one.

    If I am behaving in a way that affects other people, I expect those people to tell me that I am having a negative effect on them. If I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, I can’t change the behavior or make amends for anything it.

    Again, thanks for your support. It is greatly appreciated.


  3. It would be wonderful if we could just “beam” these discussions out to the folks who are clueless so everyone will, at the very least, begin to understand the nature of this very complex disorder! Even though I have had experience with BPD through my mother, brother and daughter, it has taken YEARS for me to, not only gain knowledge, but recognize the cycles and develop preventive strategies so I can help my adult daughter. It has taken almost as long for her to recognize her own symptoms, triggers and remedies. It is truly a lifetime process that very few understand. AS is the case with the young woman who tried to volunteer, many others with BPD are gifted, high energy, creative people who often notice all of the above qualities disappear into the personality “flatness” that can occur through medication. These are not simple problems so we should try to develop a measure of compassion and tolerance. This site goes a long way in fostering understanding and enlightenment which is why I love it! (*_*)

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