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Living with a mental illness takes a toll on quality of life and for that reason many of those suffering choose to seek professional help. Approximately one-fourth of adults in the United States lives with a diagnosable and treatable mental health disorder, according to statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health.

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The primary therapeutic interventions for mental illness come in the form of ongoing psychiatric care paired with psychotherapy. Psychiatrists are medical doctors specializing in psychiatric illness and offer prescription medications as part of the intervention process. Psychotherapy is conducted by licensed professionals with advanced degrees in social work or psychology, and typically includes interventions like talk therapy or other intensive therapeutic measures. Both mental health professionals maintain high standards of care and professional ethics that does not include any form of inappropriate sexual or physically and verbally abusive advances.

When Psychiatric Malpractice Occurs

Psychiatric malpractice occurs when either professional engages in misconduct infringing upon the care of the patient in treatment. Additionally, malpractice can result from neglect or the failure to provide professional treatment in the context of the therapeutic relationship.

Different forms of misconduct or neglect may include:

  • Failure to evaluate and diagnosis the patient
  • Improper treatment protocols implemented as interventions for the patient or failure to treat
  • Medication mishaps, such as prescribing the wrong medication for the diagnosis given
  • Engaging in physical, verbal, emotional or mental abuse toward the patient
  • Infringing upon the privacy of the patient or breaching confidentiality standards
  • Engaging in sexual relations with the patient or attempting to commit sexual acts with the patient
  • Detaining the patient involuntarily without proper cause

Liability of Mental Health Professionals for Patient Suicide

One of the worst outcomes of negligent mental health care is patient suicide. If a patient’s suicide is related to a mental health professional’s negligent care or treatment of the patient, the mental health professional may be liable for the patient’s death.

Types of misconduct or neglect that might lead to patient suicide may include:

  • Failure to recognize warning signs of suicidal behavior.
  • Failure to properly monitor a patient who demonstrates warning signs of suicidal behavior.
  • Premature release of a patient undergoing a mental health evaluation or treatment.

Psychiatrists and psychotherapist’s have specific ethical codes to uphold. The business of healing intangible illness of the mental capacity requires extremely cautious boundaries and following specific guidelines of the profession to maintain the code to “do no harm.” Many with mental health needs are placed in precarious positions that can become life-threatening for the individual or those around. Any breach in the ethical codes of the psychiatric professional can have lifelong, often devastating consequences.