I predict an increase in medical malpractice cases arising out of failure to undertake proper suicide prevention measures. My prediction is based on recent trends in suicide rates and the medical community’s typical failure to keep pace with such societal trends. We have all heard the PSA that goes “suicide is preventable and its causes are treatable.” While there is wisdom in those words, will physicians and other caregivers respond to a new epidemic of suicides?
According to data recently published in the American Journal of Public Health, suicide has topped motor vehicle accidents as the leading cause of injury-related death. Worse yet, as deaths due to car accidents decline, deaths due to suicide increased between 2000 and 2009, according to the study. There are a number of factors at work here. First, Journal Watch Psychiatry published a report showing that suicide rates are up among both men and women due to economic woes. Likewise, reports have shown that suicides have increased among returning military personnel. Both of these causes are preventable as they relate to temporary, treatable psychiatric conditions.
As an Ohio malpractice attorney, I have investigated a number of preventable suicides. My firm has entered into confidential settlements on at least two of these tragic cases. One aspect of suicide prevention has to do with so-called “hate transference” wherein undertrained or stressed caregivers actually convey hostility towards a suicidal patient thereby worsening the scenario. Other cases arises out of a failure to institute suicide precautions in an institutional setting, failure to screen suicidal patients properly, or failure to take action to institutionalize a suicidal patient.
For many people, it is easy to write off a malpractice claim where the end result is suicide by saying that if the doctor had prevented this suicide, the patient would have just killed himself/herself at a later point. This sentiment misses the point that suicidal ideations are usually transient and treatable. Family or friends who lose a loved one to suicide feel the same injustice as any malpractice victim when caregivers fail to take proper steps to protect a suicidal patient.
In Ohio, if a caregiver’s neglect fails to properly protect a suicidal patient, there is the potential for a medical negligence claim. These medical malpractice cases are more likely now as suicide rates climb. The tragedy of this trend lies in the fact that workers or soldiers who are facing a crisis can be spared, treated and shown that better times are ahead. As recognized by the authors of the American Journal of Public Health article, while “traffic safety measures have apparently substantially diminished the motor vehicle traffic mortality rate, … similar attention and resources are needed to reduce the burden of (suicide and other injuries).”