Suicide – Threat of Liability for Mental Health Professionals
Suicide is the third most common cause of death for young adults – and the ninth highest for the general adult population. This means that a large percentage of mental health professionals will have a patient that commits suicide. It may be as high as 80 percent of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and other therapists, that eventually have a patient who commits suicide.
You might think that professionals are insulated against emotions that come with the death of a friend or acquaintance – but they aren’t. Many health professionals report that even when death is expected (natural causes), they spend a great deal of time going over their treatment of the patient. They try to find out if they could have done anything different, (given another treatment) in order to help.
But, what may be surprising is the number of liability lawsuits filed against mental health professionals, when a patient commits suicide. In fact, it is the number-one cause of responsibility lawsuits brought against mental health providers.
The threat of lawsuits, and also the stigma against people working it in the mental-health profession, has led to many psychiatrists refusals to treat the chronically suicidal. The profession sees it as a failure of the doctor. Mental health professionals are also less likely to see additional suicidal patients after they have had a patient succeed at suicide.
When a therapist or physician is unable, or unwilling, to treat a suicidal patient – it leaves the patient in the lurch. It produces feelings of failure and hopelessness, without a doubt, compounding the fact that they are suicidal. It may also be difficult for an extremely suicidal patient to find a new therapist or doctor. Many patients report that the mental health professionals suddenly “don’t have time”.
We don’t think much about the way suicide will affect those around us – and certainly the professionals are way down the list of people whose feelings are important.
Mental health professionals also report that there is a lack of training on how to deal with suicidal patients, and processing the death of a patient. More than half of professionals surveyed also stated that they really don’t believe they can prevent a patient from committing suicide.
Oddly, the complaint process against physicians has been shown to increase the risk of the physician becoming depressed. One of the consequences of this will be a worsening of the situation for mentally ill people. (Chronically suicidal patients)
This is a complicated process with no easy answers, but you should know that it is likely that all psychiatrists, therapists, social workers and other counselors probably need to be in counseling themselves. When you find a new doctor or therapist – you might want to ask.
Even if you aren’t suicidal, you need to know that your counselor is as mentally healthy as possible, certainly healthier than you.