Mental health professionals, such as psychiatrists and psychologists, and mental health facilities, have the important duty of treating their patients with respect and dignity, while also providing appropriate care and preventing harm to the patient. Most professionals in the mental health field fulfill these obligations and provide their patients and the families with a tremendous benefit. However, there are some providers who cause patients and loved ones significant suffering.
Patients who are receiving psychiatric treatment are often vulnerable and fragile. They depend on their health professionals to provide them with support and care that they need. Should a mental health professional fail to exercise the necessary degree of care and skill reasonably expected of such a provider under similar circumstances, and as a result the patient suffers harm, the health care provider can be held responsible for that care through a medical malpractice lawsuit.
In order to prove psychiatric malpractice, four elements must be presented:
- There is an Established Provider-Patient Relationship – it is important to show that there was an existing relationship between the patient and the mental health professional. This establishes that the provider owed the patient a duty of “reasonable care.”
- There was a Breach of Duty of Reasonable Care by the Provider – it is necessary to show that the mental health care provider acted in a negligent way or outside the scope of their professional responsibilities.
- The Patient was Harmed – Harm can involve actual physical injuries or even death (including suicide). It may also involve emotional suffering, memory loss, aggravation of the patient’s psychological condition, or a similar type of harm.
- The existence of a Causal Relationship Between the Provider’s Breach of Duty and the Injury to the Patient – the negligence or wrongful action of the professional must be shown to have caused the patient’s injuries.
There are several ways psychiatric malpractice can occur, including:
- Breach of privacy
- Emotional manipulation
- Failure to care (abandonment)
- Failure to diagnose
- Failure to prevent harm
- Failure to treat a patient properly
- False imprisonment (including inappropriately restraining a patient)
- Inadequate supervision of a patient (especially those at risk for harming themselves)
- Lack of informed consent
- Negligent application of psychotherapy
- Physical abuse
- Sexual relations with a patient
One important duty of mental health professionals is the duty to protect patients and their families, including responding promptly and appropriately to the threats or warning signs of suicide or other harmful actions. If the health care professional fails to identify and respond to a patient’s condition in an appropriate way, they can be held liable should the patient harm themselves or others.
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