Mental Health Malpractice

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Mental Health/Psychiatric Malpractice

Mental health malpractice is an area not many victims pursue for the reason that the victims are at a disadvantage due to the history of mental instability.  Stephanie Sherman is a lawyer that litigates mental health cases.  Victims in these case are underrepresented and deserve justice as an other injury victim.  The types of cases Stephanie Sherman litigates includes suicides, brain injuries from misdiagnosis and/or misuse of psychiatric drugs, and emotional abuse and/or distress caused by incompetent mental health practitioners that attempt to provide mental health care to seriously ill patients that is beyond their expertise.  In those instances, the mental health care provider causes more damage and distress to the patient that leads to new diagnoses requiring years of additional trauma therapy to undue the harm caused.  Most mental health providers are well meaning, but they must step down when presented with a case that is beyond their level of knowledge, skill, and expertise. Just as you would not want a pediatrician to perform a heart surgery, you would not want an unskilled therapist attempting to treat a bipolar patient with a history of physical abuse and stress disorder. 

Types of Recoverable Damages Recoverable in a Mental Health Malpractice Lawsuit:

  • Medical care costs, including doctor, psychiatric care, and hospital bills.
  • Therapy expenses.
  • Medication expenses.
  • Lost wages for time off of work due to recovery or treatment.
  • Psychological and emotional damages.
  • Pain and suffering.
  • Mental anguish.
  • Punitive damages to deter future bad conduct. 

What Can Go Wrong in Mental Health Care   

There are many instances in mental health care where providers and psychiatrists are sloppy, too busy, lazy, or simply not careful or diligent in their care, which can lead to life threatening events such as overdoses, worsening conditions, or suicide. Suicides at in-patient mental health facilities are not uncommon. Hanging is the most common manner of suicide.  Patients who go to mental health facilities for their safety and protection should be given the highest level of protection, safety, and security. No suicide should ever happen under the watch of mental health providers in a locked and secure psychiatric or mental health care facility.   But it does happen, all too often.

Here are some examples of what Sherman Law has seen go wrong in suicide cases:

     1.  Allowing A Patient with Suicidal Behaviors to Be Lost to Follow Up.

Psychiatrists document only the first suicidal risk assessment and do not initiate ongoing monitoring and follow up risk assessments.  Many times, a patient will disclose during a treatment session that she is suicidal, and the psychiatrist will do a suicidal risk assessment right then. After the session concludes and the patient's emotions have calmed as a result of the therapy, most psychiatrists do not follow up with the patient between sessions, and do not communicate with family members or persons who may live with the patients. In fact, the psychiatrist may be the only one who knows of the patient's suicidality. It is very rare that a psychiatrist will call to follow up after the session. 

     2.  Prescribing Psychotropic Medications Without Frequent Follow Up.

Many psychotropic drugs carry a warning that use may cause suicidal thoughts.  If the drugs are not carefully monitored and started slowly, a patient may experience intense behavior changes, sleep disturbances, and thoughts of killing themselves or others. Psychiatrists often prescribe the drugs without any history of a patient's reactions to drugs and without frequent follow up, if at all. The first two weeks of starting a new psychotropic drug can be so intense that the patient cannot sleep, study, or work during this time period. The drugs are prescribed, and the patient does not have access to the psychiatrist until the next appointment, which could ne 30 days later. A patient in an already distressed mental state may not appreciate the dangerous effects the drugs are having and may not reach out for help.

     3.  Failing To Evaluate the Safety of The Environment for A Suicidal Patient.

Suicidal risk assessments and psychiatrists almost never ask questions about the suicidal patient's home environment and access to firearms, surplus of prescription drugs, or other items that can be used to commit suicide.  If the patient is in treatment and is a documented suicidal risk, a thorough search of the patient's room and areas of access should be inspected for anything that could be used as a ligature or sharp item. Don't assume that because a patient is in a locked facility, the patient is safe.  Many things including shoelaces, plastic forks, and the patient's own pants can be used. If the patient is not in a locked facility, it is even more urgent that the psychiatrist communicate with the family so a home inspection can be done. 

     4.  Failing to Review a Patient's Health and Neurological History for Other Causes.

There are neurological, physical, and hormonal causes of mood disorders that almost never are investigated. Psychiatrists who are not practicing in a hospital setting are far removed from medical pathology and treatments.  A psychiatrist may start a patient on a course of potent psychotropic drugs rather than investigating all of the sources of mood changes, decreased levels of consciousness, or altered mental states.  Be sure to ask what other medical causes contribute to mood disorders and if the psychiatrist doesn't know or has no suggestions, see someone else. 

     5.  Failing to Adequately Assess a Patient's Symptoms or Risk of Suicide.

Some mental conditions are closely associated with suicide risk including bipolar disorder, complex post traumatic stress disorder (cPTSD), and severe depression.  Mental health care providers who do not evaluate a patient's symptoms properly may miss a severe condition that is presently a risk factor for suicide.  For example, a veteran suffering from complex post traumatic stress disorder from war and/or a history of child abuse may not communicate the depth of his suffering and it is the mental health providers job to conduct an adequate evaluation of the patient's conditions and potential risk.  If the health care provider does not, the veteran in our example could be sent home with only an anxiety diagnosis and not the more severe cPTSD.  

     6.  Failing to Acknowledge Insomnia as a Risk Factor for Suicide. 

Insomnia is the inability to sleep.  If a patient is not able to fall asleep naturally or easily for 2 weeks or more, the condition is chronic.  Someone that struggles with sleeping along with another mental condition such as anxiety will become more and more frustrated as the sleepless nights continue.  The continued and persistent lack of sleep can push someone into a severe depression leading to suicidal thoughts.  Many times, insomnia is not considered a severe condition and not given the attention it needs.

If your loved one committed suicide while in mental health or psychiatric facility, call mental health malpractice attorney Stephanie Sherman. She understands the delicate nature of mental health malpractice and psychiatric malpractice cases and the mental illnesses involved.  Your loved one suffered and its time to demand justice.  

Baum Hedlund

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