I'm 28 years old and live at home with my parents. I suffer from manic depressive illness. My parents expect my therapist and doctor to share everything about my therapy and my medication with them. Don't I have any right to privacy?
(Column: Ask the Therapist)
Rita Seiden, C.S.W., Ph.D., Executive Director, Park Slope Center for Mental Health
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Like all complicated questions, the answer is "yes" and "no." First, the "yes" answer. By law, you have an absolute right to privacy, called "confidentiality" in regard to health and mental health care. Furthermore, without the legal constraints, you and your therapist and your doctor need to be clear about what you are willing to have shared and when they may share information.

Now the "no," which isn't really "no you don't have the right to privacy" but more like: when you live at home with your parents or other caregivers and you have a history of illness that affects them and you, those caregivers have some moral right to know about your treatment and your progress. As long as a child lives at home with her/his parents, that child (well or ill) will be a child in that household. Properly, I believe, there is no such thing as complete equality with one's parents. They are after all your parents. If you live separately from them you and they may get the idea of greater separation and individuation. As long as you and they live together, individuation is harder to come by, not only for the parents but for the child as well. Adult children often live in their parents' homes as if they were children, they don't help, they don't contribute, and they expect to have their laundry and dishes done. If you have a history of acute episodes of mental illness, or if you are not fully able to function in the adult world and you are living at home, expect that your parents have a right to know about your care, just as they would if you had the flu or a broken leg.

How you manage your care affects your right to privacy. Sometimes, of course, your illness is outside your ability to manage it, and caring parents are a big plus. How you manage your illness, how carefully your observe the treatment (going to therapy, staying with your meds, talking to your docs and therapist when it is not going well) is related to your moral right to privacy. If you are doing well, it may be all right to restrict information that is shared with your parents; but if you are not doing well and they are supplying the necessities of daily life, it seems to me that they are morally entitled to have information about you.
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