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Medical Malpractice And Mental Health

US policy makers are currently renewing efforts to increase health care for mental illnesses. Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. According to medical studies, about 20% of all adult Americans, or one in five people, suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder. Americans file 270 million prescriptions each year for anti-depressants alone. Children in the United States suffer mental illnesses at about the same rates as adults, but an estimated two-thirds of those children are not receiving the care they need for their illnesses.

We know that mental illnesses are disorders of the brain’s structure and chemistry. Doctors treating patients with mental illnesses face the same responsibilities as doctors treating any other medical condition. Diagnosing and treating these illnesses is a serious matter, and medical negligence by health care professionals working with mental illnesses can have major consequences.

Choosing the wrong medication for a prescription leaves a patient vulnerable to dangerous emotional situations. Ignoring warning signs of mental illness or failing to consider a patient’s previous history of mental illness can allow patients to suffer and seriously harm themselves. Belittling patient claims of anxiety and other mental health disorders may create other physical conditions like heart problems.

Malpractice in mental health can occur in the form of:

  • Failing to diagnose a mental illness
  • Failing to treat a mental illness
  • Negligent application of medication
  • Failing to get informed consent from the patient about the treatment plan
  • Failing to adequately monitor patients who are at risk for self-harm
  • Failing to prevent self-harm when able to

Doctors and medical professionals treating mental illnesses need to be able to respond quickly to warning signs of self-harm and other destructive behaviors from the patients. Health care professionals can be held responsible for failing to monitor the patient’s condition or failing to prevent harm.

Even when mental illnesses are not a matter of self-harm they still seriously affect the quality of a person’s life.

About 20% of all doctors visits are related to anxiety disorders or panic attacks alone. Anxiety can make people feel helpless and worried, and can affect both their social and work lives. It can also cause physical responses from the body like heart problems, respiratory problems, and chronic pain.

The United States currently spends about $150 billion dollars annually on medical costs for mental illnesses. More significantly, since mental illnesses affect people of working age they cost the country about $200 billion dollars in lost wages.

Care and treatment for mental illness is an ongoing discussion in the United States. Discussions about mental health are becoming less stigmatized and gaining more significance as doctors better understand the causes and effects of mental illnesses.

According to the National Institute of Health, warning signs of a mental illness include:

  • Marked personality change,
  • Inability to cope with problems and daily activities,
  • Strange or grandiose ideas,
  • Excessive anxieties,
  • Prolonged depression and apathy,
  • Marked changes in eating or sleeping patterns,
  • Thinking or talking about suicide or harming oneself,
  • Extreme mood swings—high or low,
  • Abuse of alcohol or drugs, and
  • Excessive anger, hostility, or violent behavior.

If you or a loved one is experiencing any of these symptoms, talk to an experienced health care professional.

About the Author

Briggs Bedigian
Briggs Bedigian

H. Briggs Bedigian (“Briggs”) is a founding partner of Gilman & Bedigian, LLC.  Prior to forming Gilman & Bedigian, LLC, Briggs was a partner at Wais, Vogelstein and Bedigian, LLC, where he was the head of the firm’s litigation practice.  Briggs’ legal practice is focused on representing clients involved in medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. 


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