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Penningtons Manches highlights the impact of psychiatric disorders during Mental Health Awareness Week 2018

Posted: 17/05/2018

Mental Health Awareness Week has been in operation since 2001 and is organised by the Mental Health Foundation. The week runs from 14-20 May 2018 and is important in raising awareness of mental health problems to inspire action and promote the message of good mental health for all people.

Why is mental health important?

Mental health problems include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Mixed anxiety and depression is the most common mental disorder in Britain, with 7.8% of people meeting criteria for diagnosis. Mental anxiety and depression can have a significant impact on daily life and is estimated to be responsible for one fifth of all lost working days in the UK.

It is also well recognised that mental health problems have a particular prevalence within certain groups, such as those with physical health problems already. Unfortunately, mental health problems among people with a learning disability particularly are often overlooked, underdiagnosed and left untreated as a result of poor understanding, awareness, and symptoms being mistakenly attributed to the person's existing disability.

Frankie Rhodes, associate in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches, says: “We act for people who are struggling with mental health problems after trauma in their lives - from clients with a crippling lack of self-esteem following a negligent procedure to parents experiencing the shock of losing a child in unexpected circumstances. It is important to continue to be aware of often unobserved psychiatric problems to ensure that clients receive the support and treatment they need in order to optimise their recovery and give them the best quality of life possible. Claims can be pursued on behalf of an injured person and we often deal with cases involving physical injuries, such as incidents during childbirth, which can lead to psychiatric injuries. Unbeknown to many, claims for psychiatric injuries can also be brought on behalf of individuals who have suffered from a mental health condition as a result of witnessing a traumatic event or an accident occurring as a result of someone else’s negligence. Our team has experience of bringing successful claims on behalf of clients who have sustained psychiatric injuries in such circumstances, whether as a primary victim or in the context of secondary victims.”

How are secondary victims defined and what is the legal test for bringing a claim?

An individual who suffers psychiatric injury after witnessing someone they know being killed or seriously injured in an accident is otherwise known as a ‘secondary’ victim. However, the courts have restricted the number of secondary victim claims by setting out a number of subjective criteria which must be met in order to bring a successful claim. In summary, these are as follows:

  • having a relationship of love and affection with the primary victim;
  • coming across the ‘immediate aftermath’ of the event;
  • having direct perception of the harm to the primary victim; and
  • being of reasonable fortitude.

The law surrounding this point is very complex and it can be difficult to prove a claim. However, a recent case, RE (a minor by her mother and litigation friend) and others v Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust [2017], provides some encouragement for claimants, as an example of a successful secondary victim claim for a relative where there was first hand observation of the period immediately following a traumatic birth. It was also acknowledged that these circumstances were a triggering event for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

What help is available?

If you are concerned that you are developing a mental health problem, you should seek the advice and support of your GP as a matter of priority. If you are in distress and need immediate help and are unable to see a GP, you should visit your local A&E. Organisations such as Mind, Samaritans and Rethink Mental Illness are also able to provide assistance.

If you, a family member or a friend have concerns about your mental health following a traumatic event or medical accident, the team at Penningtons Manches is happy to provide initial advice and have a confidential, no obligation discussion. Please call freephone 0800 328 9545 or email for further information.

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Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP

Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP is a limited liability partnership registered in England and Wales with registered number OC311575 and is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority under number 419867.

Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP