What Is a Psychiatric Injury?

Andrew Kirmayer

A psychiatric injury often arises out of a traumatic experience. These injuries can result in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which is an emotional reaction to extremely stressful or traumatic events. Psychiatric injuries can be triggered in school children who are bullied, in employees with difficult bosses, and in people who suffer serious, life-threatening accidents. Emotional trauma associated with psychiatric injury can lead to physical problems and, in some cases, the thought of suicidal actions. Psychological symptoms can vary but usually leave a person unable to cope at work or in social settings.

An employee who has a difficult boss can sustain a psychiatric injury.
An employee who has a difficult boss can sustain a psychiatric injury.

The symptoms of psychiatric injury and PTSD are often similar, and can include trouble sleeping, frequent bouts of anger, and general irritability. A person often has a hard time concentrating and is easily startled. The symptoms and the effects they cause on a person’s life generally have to last a month or more for him or her to be diagnosed with a psychiatric injury. Another characteristic that people with PTSD show is hypervigilance, which can be an overreaction to behaviors of another person, an accident, or some violent activity.

PTSD therapists need to be able to identify the signs of PTSD.
PTSD therapists need to be able to identify the signs of PTSD.

Psychiatric injury is sometimes mistaken for mental illness; there are several differences that experts have identified, which are especially useful when one seeks legal action against another individual or employer. In the case of hypervigilance, which can be confused with paranoia, the PTSD form typically alleviates when the person leaves the stressful situation. The person is usually aware of his or her anxiety, while one who is paranoid is generally not. Hypervigilant people often do not respond to drug treatments, lose sense of worth, and typically have additional PTSD symptoms, in contrast to those with other mental health issues.

Compared to other mental disorders, a psychiatric injury usually has a definable cause. People who undergo psychiatric treatment can often discuss the troubling situation, are obsessive about it and, although have trouble explaining it, can be aware of the condition. Most mental illnesses have symptoms opposite to these.

Employers sometimes try to prove someone has a mental illness rather than psychiatric injury to avoid liability. Anxiety and depression are often symptoms of the condition, but are also common in the general public. Legal experts can therefore argue against actions such as lawsuits. Psychiatrists are usually able to diagnose the injury, but pursuing a legal case can add stress for someone who has already been traumatized.

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Discussion Comments


Excellent article that explains my experiences in life very well. Unfortunately, most people don't realize that psychiatric injury can cause symptoms that mimic certain mental illnesses. I just hope more and more people come to learn what this article is expressing.

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