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Personal Injury

Study reveals link between traumatic injury, mental health issues

A new Canadian study reveals a high probability that mental health issues, and even suicide, could occur after a major traumatic injury, Oakville personal injury lawyer Jill Edwards tells AdvocateDaily.com.

Edwards, partner with Edwards Pollard, has successfully represented clients in matters involving traumatic injuries and says she finds the research fascinating.

“I don’t know if many plaintiff lawyers turn their mind to this being a concern down the road,” she says.

“It reminds us that we need to look at all of the potential issues. We have to make sure we build our cases to address mental health difficulties. That means hiring the right experts to discuss the risk of mental illness, anxiety, or depression that could show up in the future. We have to make sure there is compensation for these people to afford the treatment for these psychological injuries.”

A Globe and Mail article outlined the research from the Canadian Medical Association Journal. It noted how those who have experienced serious injuries — such as through automobile accidents or violence — have a 40 per cent more likelihood of being hospitalized with mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety or alcohol-abuse disorder, than those never stricken with a trauma.

Suicide rates of 70 per 100,000 people among post-trauma victims are about six and a half times higher than the 11.5 per 100,000 for the general population, says the report.

A 2014 study from the University of Manitoba that surveyed Canadians after severe traumas came to similar conclusions.

“I see people who are injured that many times do suffer from anxiety or depression because of their restrictions, and change in life that it causes,” Edwards says. “When they’ve lost a part of who they were, they may suffer from those conditions.”

Patients often struggle alone because many mental health services are not necessarily covered by OHIP (Ontario’s provincial health insurance) plans, thus requiring them to pay out of pocket, she says.

“As an injury lawyer, I have to make sure that I’ve included the cost of these potential treatments in any settlement I undertake. I need to consider whether there will be real costs to these injured people in the future,” Edwards says.

In the interim, these studies reinforce the importance of further investigating the causation or correlation between traumatic injuries and mental health side effects, she says.

“If this is something in the medical field where they believe there’s a link, it should be explored and researched,” Edwards says. “We need to make sure this is the doctor’s or psychologist’s recommendation, and that they can tie it to the incident itself to get the necessary compensation. We really need that medical foundation before we can ask a jury or an insurance company to fund this type of treatment.”

Cases could settle years after the accident, and during that time the patient may be able to discover mental health problems that have come to the fore, she says.

"In personal injury matters, once a case settles or goes to trial, lawyers cannot go back and ask for further compensation if the injured person’s condition worsens," Edwards says. "Therefore, given this research, it would be prudent for lawyers to consider whether mental health issues may develop in the foreseeable future and if so, to obtain the necessary medical evidence to support that claim."

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