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Haté: Injury awards should consider psychological impact of trauma

Toronto personal injury lawyer Rohan Haté says personal injury awards should consider the long-term mental health effects caused by trauma following the recent release of a study that shows people who suffer traumatic injuries have significantly higher incidents of suicide.

The study shows the suicide rate among those who experience trauma "was 70 per 100,000 patients per year, substantially higher than the population average" of 11.5 per 100,000.

“This report from the Canadian Medical Association Journal opened my eyes," Haté, partner with McPhadden Samac Tuovi Haté LLP, tells AdvocateDaily.com.

The study looked at 19,338 people between 2005 and 2010 who suffered severe trauma caused by motor vehicle collisions and falls. The suicide rate among them "is considerably higher than rates described for patients with concussions (31 per 100,000 patients per year), military personnel (14 per 100,000 patients per year) and the overall Canadian population (11.5 per 100,000 patients per year)," the study found.

Haté says, given his experience working with people who have suffered trauma, he’s not surprised by the findings.

"Dealing with the aftermath of a trauma or chronic pain has a significant impact on the psyche and one’s ability to function," he says.

The psychological aspects of personal injury claims are often dismissed by arguments that there's no objective medical evidence of an injury, Haté says.

"I hope the insurance companies are aware and have seen these studies so when people come to them saying they need psychological therapy, they'll think twice before denying it," he says, adding he may consider including the researchers' findings in future claims.

While there are public campaigns to raise awareness of mental health issues, Haté says Ontario should provide broader access to health-care practitioners.

"The cost of seeing a psychiatrist is paid for by the province, but if you want to see a psychologist, you may need to pay for that out of your pocket if you don't have benefits to cover it,” he says. "With accident benefits, sometimes it's covered, but not always. Often people want to speak with a therapist to deal with the impact a serious trauma has on mental health.”

Governments could do more to ensure people can access the health-care professional they need, Haté says.

"Psychiatrists are important because they are medical doctors who can prescribe medication," but psychologists provide behavioural therapy that helps people cope with mental and emotional suffering, he says.

Haté encourages his clients to speak openly and candidly to their doctors about any mental health issues that appeared after a traumatic incident.

"Many people don't realize they're experiencing depression or anxiety after an accident,” he says. “It can develop over time, and in many cases, people will try to cope with it on their own instead of speaking to a mental health professional. It is difficult for some people to acknowledge they need the help.

"But it’s important they tell their doctor," he says. "The only way they're going to get help is if people know. If you don't address it, you'll end up with the statistics found in the study.”

Haté says the research fits with the anecdotal evidence he's seen with clients and by hearing about people suffering depression following a major traumatic incident.

"When I read that article, it was an eye-opener," he says.

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