Patient Suicide Liability: Understanding Mental Health Counseling Malpractice Concerns
Many mental health workers, including psychologists, psychiatrists, and counselors, experience a deep sense of fear and apprehension when it comes to treating patients who are suicidal. This fear stems from the potential legal consequences that they may face as a result of their actions or decisions during the treatment process. While this fear may seem irrational to some, it is important to understand that mental health professionals are bound by a complex web of legal and ethical obligations that govern their practice.
One of the primary concerns that mental health workers have is the possibility of being held liable for any harm that may come to their patients. In cases where a patient’s suicidal ideation escalates into a suicide attempt or completion, mental health professionals may worry that they will be blamed for not taking sufficient action to prevent the tragedy. This fear is not unfounded, as there have been instances where mental health workers have been sued or faced legal repercussions (such as medical malpractice cases) for allegedly failing to provide adequate care or intervention.
Confidentiality & Legal Action
Another legal concern that mental health workers face is the issue of confidentiality. While maintaining patient confidentiality is a fundamental principle in mental health practice, it becomes more complicated when dealing with suicidal patients. Mental health professionals may find themselves torn between their duty to protect their patients’ privacy and their obligation to ensure their safety. If a mental health worker breaches confidentiality to prevent a patient from harming themselves, they may face legal consequences for violating privacy laws.
Furthermore, mental health workers may also worry about the potential for legal action from the patient’s family or loved ones. In cases where a patient dies by suicide, their family members may seek to hold the mental health professional accountable, believing that they should have done more to prevent the tragedy. This can lead to lengthy legal battles and emotional distress for the mental health worker, who may question their own abilities and decisions.
More than half of the families of suicide victims believe that mental healthcare providers were negligent in their treatment. Consequently, 25% of these families take the step of seeking legal advice to potentially sue the healthcare professionals involved.
Sadly, some mental health professionals have started utilizing “defensive practices” due to the risk of malpractice lawsuits. These defensive procedures are a response to the risk of legal action, which may include:
- Over-Reliance on Psychotropic Medications: In order to mitigate legal risk, certain providers might depend on unnecessary medication, which could impact patient treatment.
- Excessive Use of Inpatient Psychiatric Hospitalizations: Because of legal concerns, some mental health professionals may admit patients to the hospital, even if it’s not the best approach.
- Excessive Documentation: Good documentation is crucial in mental health care, but some providers may over-document to avoid blame.
- Limited Patient Engagement: To avoid legal problems, some doctors may be more careful and detached when interacting with patients. This distance can eventually impact the therapeutic relationship.
- Overly Defensive Assessments: Providers may become overly cautious in their assessments and decision-making, potentially leading to unnecessary interventions and treatments.
In order to improve their practice, mental health experts need to be aware of and recognize defensive practices. . By acknowledging these practices, mental health experts can work towards creating a more open and honest therapeutic environment.
How to Reduce the Risk of Suicide
Thankfully, there’s a better way to help suicidal patients that improves results and lowers the chance of legal issues.
In mental health malpractice cases, proving malpractice means showing that the provider didn’t meet the “standard of care.” To prove this, you need to give specialized care for suicidal people and keep detailed records. This way, you can make sure you not only meet but go beyond the standard of care. To prove this, you need to give specialized care for suicidal people and keep detailed records. This way, you can make sure you not only meet but go beyond the standard of care.
Embracing suicide-specific, evidence-based care offers a dual advantage. Not only does the patient benefit from the precise care they require in treating their mental illness. but it also protects the provider. Customized evaluations, focused treatments, and ongoing tracking improve chances of success and enhance patient satisfaction during difficult times.
Also, this method protects the provider. Mental health professionals lower the chance of legal problems by using proven protocols and practices. Consistent documentation, clear communication, and following suicide prevention standards help protect providers legally. It also shows that good care leads to positive results, benefiting both patients and providers.
How the CAMS Framework Supports Patient & Provider
At CAMS-care, we have developed a philosophy of care and a therapy framework to help people with suicidal thoughts. Our approach is flexible and collaborative, which is why many mental health providers choose us. CAMS is based on 30 years of research, so it is a trusted and proven resource.
CAMS is unique because it combines suicide prevention with regular clinical practices. When mental health providers use these methods, it saves lives. CAMS also helps protect against malpractice claims if someone dies by suicide. This approach helps patients and providers deal with suicidal thoughts and creates a safer and better care environment.
For more information
Treating suicidal patients carries inherent risks, including being sued for malpractice. Read “Malpractice Liability Related to Suicidal Risk: How to Decrease the Risk” by Dr. David Jobes.
Learn More About CAMS-care’s Approach to Suicide-Prevention Training
Discover a comprehensive suite of suicide assessment, prevention and treatment resources at CAMS-care. Our expert suicide prevention training, professional consulting, and valuable resources are designed to empower those seeking to combat suicidality & suicidal ideation.