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Emotional Abuse

When we think of abuse, we often think in terms of physical violence. We think of someone being hit or shoved or kicked. We think of bruises and welts and black eyes. However, physical violence is not the only means by which someone can be abused. Abuse also can come in forms that cause emotional or psychological harm, and this form of abuse can be more insidious than physical violence because it doesn’t leave easily visible outward marks. The lack of physical indicators of the abuse can make it an attractive choice for the type of abuser who enjoys manipulation and control over vulnerable victims.

Emotional or psychological abuse is all too common in nursing homes, where vulnerable residents or people with disabilities depend on nursing home staff for many functions, some of which they may need to survive. Nursing home residents may not be able to get meals or move around on their own, and may have to depend on nursing home staff to ensure that they’re fed and not left in bed. They may need help with personal hygiene such as grooming, getting dressed, bathing or going to the bathroom. That can leave a senior or a disabled person feeling powerless, and leave an abuser feeling like he or she can get away with anything because the resident is too afraid to complain.

However, nursing home residents who are the victims of emotional or psychological abuse are not without recourse. The Illinois Nursing Home Care Act says that every nursing home resident has the right to be free from abuse — and that includes psychological or emotional abuse. Under Illinois law, a nursing resident has the right to make a claim for compensation for any injuries or damages suffered because of abuse or neglect.

If you or a loved one who lives in a nursing home has been the victim of emotional or psychological abuse, you may be able to recover compensation for any medical expenses incurred as a result of the abuse, as well as compensation for any lost income, pain and suffering, or loss of enjoyment of normal life. An experienced nursing home lawyer can talk to you about your situation, what you can do to stop the abuse, and your options for pursuing compensation.

What is Emotional or Psychological Abuse?

By another word, emotional or psychological abuse is bullying. It’s the use of insults, threats, or degradation in order to manipulate or control someone, or to deliberately inflict harm upon them. In a nursing home setting, emotional or psychological abuse may take several forms, including:

  • Making threats — This can include threats of physical violence, or more emotionally-oriented threats such as threatening to withhold meals or medical care, or telling someone they’ll be left in isolation if they don’t cooperate
  • Enforced isolation — Leaving someone alone for prolonged periods as a way to inflict harm is a form of psychological or emotional abuse
  • Humiliating or degrading comments — This may include using insults to damage the resident’s psyche and make them easier to manipulate or control
  • Harassment — This may include repeated unwanted contact that also includes use of insults or threats

Nursing home staff members hold positions of privilege that give them power over residents, but they’re not necessarily the only perpetrators of abuse. Emotional or psychological abuse may be inflicted by another resident of the facility, or by a visitor. Regardless of the source, it is the nursing home’s responsibility to ensure that residents are free from such abuse, and failing to monitor other residents or visitors who inflict abuse may make the owner or administrator culpable in the abuse.

Consequences of Emotional or Psychological Abuse

Emotional or psychological abuse can be hard to detect, but that doesn’t make it any less damaging to victims. Victims of emotional and psychological abuse can experience many harmful effects that can affect their physical health as well as their mental health. Symptoms of emotional abuse may include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Problems sleeping
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Withdrawal
  • Changes in mood or behavior
  • Fear or anger, especially in the presence of staff or other residents who may be inflicting the abuse

If a nursing home resident exhibits these signs, he or she may be suffering from emotional or physical abuse.

How a Lawyer Can Help

There are steps you can take if you or someone you know is experiencing emotional or psychological abuse in a nursing home. You can make a complaint to the Illinois Department of Public Health, and the department will conduct an investigation and potentially take action against the facility’s license. You also can file a lawsuit against the nursing home owner or licensee for compensation of any damages caused by the abuse. An experienced nursing home attorney can help you investigate, gather evidence, and decide on a path forward.