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K. Lindsay Rakers
K. Lindsay Rakers
Attorney • (314) 588-8500

Liability Can Arise from Failure to Prevent Suicide

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When you or w loved one are placed into a mental health care facility, you trust that the medical care you receive will be presented in a professional and diligent manner. Your goal is to be stabilized, so that you can continue with your life. Instead, imagine if you or a loved one end up no better then you were prior to being admitted, because you either succeeded or came close to succeeding with your suicide even while in the care of trained medical professionals.

If a person has voluntarily checked themselves into a psychiatric care facility and they proceed with the act of suicide while there, could the care facility be held liable for the death of the patient? Would this be a violation of the patient’s rights to a safe and humane environment?

Fifteen year old Kathleen Kennedy was voluntarily checked in to the hospital for psychiatric treatment. After being there for some time, Kathleen was placed on suicide watch, and though on watch, she was incorrectly monitored. She committed suicide while admitted in the Missouri state psychiatric hospital. The family brought suit against the hospital as well as the Missouri Department of Health. For further reading, the American Bar Association has provided a PDF titled Suicide; Failure to Protect.

In the case of Kathleen Kennedy, it has been alleged that the progression of her illness called for a more secure setting and that she lacked proper care.

These types of tragic events do not only happen during in-patient care. People are treated for all kinds of mental illnesses, or chemical imbalances at home all the time. Physicians will usually prescribe medications to try and “level” a person out; the most common used are antidepressants.

Antidepressants may increase the risk of suicide in some patients. People being treated at home for moderate to severe depression should be monitored by their physician as well as those around them. These patients are among the growing statistics of people who committed suicide, or have made an attempt to commit suicide while taking prescription antidepressants.

Medicine Net has brought awareness to some of the antidepressants side effects which include possible suicidal thoughts or tendencies such as Celexa, Effexor, Lexapro, Luvox, Paxil, Prozac, Remeron, Serzone, Wellbutrin and Zoloft. (This is not a complete list)

The FDA is asking drug manufacturers to place explicit warnings about the drugs' side effects, including the risk of suicide on their labels, and has given a medicine guide to educate patients of the risks and side effects of their medications.

Some tips on how to watch for signs of suicidal thoughts in yourself, or a family member while taking antidepressants are:

  • Pay close attention to any changes, especially sudden changes, in mood, behaviors, thoughts, or feelings. This is very important when an antidepressant medicine is started or when the dose is changed.
  • Call the healthcare provider right away to report new or sudden changes in mood, behavior, thoughts, or feelings.
  • Keep all follow-up visits with the healthcare provider as scheduled. Call the healthcare provider between visits as needed, especially if you have concerns about symptoms

Lindsay Rakers