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Mental Health Awareness Week 2022: psychiatric injury claims

Posted: 13/05/2022

Mental Health Awareness Week is taking place this year from 9-15 May. The theme is loneliness, which can be both the driver for, and the product of, poor mental health.

Where an individual has been involved in an accident, or is the victim of clinical negligence and sustained physical injuries, it is not unusual for this to also lead to mental health problems.

For some people, they will experience PTSD or adjustment disorders from the accident itself. For others, the life-changing physical injuries they have sustained will often have an impact on their ability to work and see family and friends, and affect their view of the future. They can experience increased feelings of loneliness and psychiatric injury, such as depressive and anxiety disorders.

Common types of psychiatric injury

According to the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD), psychiatric injury includes disorders such as:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): arises as a delayed or protracted response to a stressful event or situation of an exceptionally threatening or catastrophic nature. Symptoms can include flashbacks, nightmares, emotional detachment, avoidance and hypervigilance amongst others.
  • Adjustment disorders: states of subjective distress and emotional disturbance, usually interfering with social functioning and performance, arising in the period of adaptation to a significant life change or stressful life event. Symptoms can include depressed mood, anxiety and a feeling of inability to cope.
  • Generalised anxiety disorder: persistent and generalised anxiety. Symptoms can include persistent nervousness, trembling, palpitations and dizziness.
  • Severe depressive episode: can occur with or without psychotic symptoms. The individual has marked and distressing low mood, reduction of energy and decrease in activity. Symptoms can include loss of self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness or guilt and suicidal thoughts or acts.
  • Specific phobic disorder: fears and anxiety restricted to highly specific situations, for example circumstances relating to the accident.

Employer’s liability

As awareness around mental health and psychiatric injury increases, so too do the obligations for employers to provide adequate support and undertake risk assessments in respect of their employees and the work they are doing. This is particularly true for those in jobs where there is higher exposure to trauma, such as front-line services.

Research by the University of Cambridge, funded by Police Care UK, has shown that close to one in five police officers and staff in the UK have symptoms consistent with either PTSD or what is known as complex PTSD, which is almost five times higher than the UK population levels.

College of Policing guidance published in 2018 recognises that some areas of policing result in a higher level of exposure to distressing experiences, materials or information, such as roles involving child protection. In those areas, forces should take steps to reduce the risks to officers including:

  • psychological screening - both prior to commencing a high-risk role, while they are in the role, and referral screening;
  • regular one-to-ones with line managers - at least four times a year and following any absence or chance of circumstances;
  • appropriate training;
  • risk assessments; and
  • referrals to occupational health when required.

Sophie Bullimore, an associate in the personal injury team at Penningtons Manches Cooper, regularly acts for police officers who have sustained psychiatric injury. She has recently settled two cases where officers were diagnosed with psychiatric injury as a result of their work. She says: “We act for individuals that have been let down by their organisation. The psychiatric injury they have sustained has resulted in them being medically retired from policing - a career they loved. While it is hoped that their conditions will improve with further treatment, they will never return to policing. This often results in feelings of isolation and a sense of grief. Attitudes in the police are changing and there is a greater understanding of mental health, however, more needs to be done to protect our officers while they are doing their job protecting the public.” 

Help available

If you are affected by mental health problems, in addition to GP and A&E services, organisations such as Mind, Samaritans and Police Care UK may be able to provide assistance.

If your mental health has been affected following a traumatic event or medical accident related to your work, the team at Penningtons Manches Cooper is happy to provide initial legal advice and have a confidential, no obligation discussion.

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