Patients who come to psychiatrists seeking help are vulnerable. They place their trust in mental health professionals to help them, whether that’s through talking out their problems, prescribing medications to alleviate symptoms of their mental illness, or recognizing the need for hospitalization. Sometimes, a person with mental illness may not be able to make decisions on his or her own or understand what is happening — in which case the psychiatrist plays an even more crucial role in helping the person through the crisis and toward stability.
A psychiatrist has a duty of reasonable care for his or her patients, meaning that he or she should provide care that meets the standards for the profession and for the diagnosis. When a psychiatrist or other mental health profession fails in that duty and the patient is harmed in some way, the psychiatrist may be guilty of malpractice.
Common Forms of Malpractice
Some possible forms of psychiatric malpractice may include:
- Medication Errors — Medications used to treat mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, or schizophrenia can have very serious and behavior-altering side effects. In some instances, altering behavior is the goal, but when a psychiatrist prescribes the wrong medication or the wrong dose, there can be severe consequences for the patient or for other people with whom the patient comes into contact. For example, some depression medications can have increased suicidal thoughts as a side effect, so it’s important to make sure people with mental illnesses get the right meds in the right doses for their diagnoses.
- Failure to Diagnose a Mental Illness — When a psychiatrist or psychologist fails to diagnose a person’s mental illness, the patient likely will continue to experience the anguish or other symptoms of the disorder, and may come to harm him or herself or other people.
- Failure to Recognize Suicidal or Dangerous Behavior — Mental illnesses can cause people to behave in ways that are dangerous to themselves or others. When a mental health professional fails to see the signs that the patient may harm him or herself or someone else, the consequences could be dire.
- Sexual Misconduct — People with mental illnesses form a psychologically intimate and trusting relationship with their mental health providers. When a psychiatrist or psychologist abuses that relationship to coerce the patient into sexual relations, that may be malpractice. It also may be a crime, depending upon the circumstances.
- Violating Confidentiality — Psychiatrists and psychologists are bound to keep patient information confidential. When they divulge information about someone’s mental illness or treatment without that person’s consent, and harm is caused to the person, that may be malpractice.
How a Lawyer Can Help
In some ways, the services a mental health professional provides to a patient can be intangible. It may be challenging to gauge whether talk therapy was conducted in a way that was negligent, and the confidentiality that exists between a psychiatrist or psychologist and the patient can make a malpractice claim challenging — especially if the patient is incapable of or is unwilling to report the malpractice him or herself.
A Chicago injury attorney with experience handling psychiatric malpractice cases will know what details and evidence to look for to get to the bottom of what happened and to determine whether a malpractice claim exists. When a claim is successful, you may be able to recover compensation for your medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering — including the emotional distress you suffered because of the malpractice.