Mental Health Olympic Style
by Elizabeth A. Kaveny
Simone Biles’ exit from the women’s gymnastics team events of the Tokyo Games has brought global attention to mental health. In the week following Biles’ withdrawal, stories about the gymnast and mental health generated more than 2 million social media interactions. Supporters praised her brave decision to admit that she was under an amount of pressure and stress that was affecting her mentally to the point of being unable to perform. Critics found nothing brave or heroic about quitting, but rather the selfish decision of a weak person. Regardless of which viewpoint you share on Biles’ exit, or Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal from the French Open citing long bouts of depression, the athletes’ actions have drawn great attention to the topic of mental health.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, suicide resulting from depression is a major public health concern and among the leading causes of death in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide was the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34, and the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 44. Join that with the recognition of medical errors as the third leading cause of death across the board, and it becomes necessary to examine how mental health issues and suicide are being handled medically.
As tragic as any suicide is, those committed just days after being a patient is seeking help and treated for depression and/or suicidality are particularly inexcusable. Elizabeth A. Kaveny, Managing Partner of Kaveny + Kroll Trial Lawyers (www.kavenykroll.com), “In-patient suicides have been recognized by the National Quality Form as a never event. Never events are errors so egregious that they should never happen to a patient under any circumstances and are recognized as such by medicine and the law.”
Elizabeth Kaveny has handled numerous suicide cases – inpatient suicides, inpatient attempted suicides, and suicides committed just days from discharge for mental health treatment. Kaveny obtained the largest verdict from a Cook County jury for a patient’s attempted suicide while admitted to the behavioral health unit of one of Chicagoland’s premiere hospitals. Citing violations of its own policies and procedures, she was able to show that what happened to her client was so negligent to warrant a substantial remedy in his behalf, including leaving him with a debilitating brain injury.
Kaveny has become known in Illinois in her work for representing the families of individuals who were identified as high-risk for suicide, yet discharged from the appropriate level of oversight and care. “One of the major myths of suicide is that if a patient wants to kill themselves, they will,” says Kaveny. Medical studies show that’s just not true. Rather with the right treatment plan consisting of medication, therapies and time, individuals can learn to live with depression and respond appropriately and safely when their depression rises to an unbearable level. Perhaps one of the more public figures in this arena is another Olympian Michael Phelps. Phelps has been public in his continuing battle with mental health and has discussed the suicidal tendencies that still exist and how he, his family and his medical team work together to keep them at bay.
“Whether an Olympian or an everyday person, we are all entitled to receive medical care including that which addresses our mental health as much as our physical,” says Kaveny. “If this doesn’t occur, it’s up to me to step in, in the same way I would in the case of any other type of medical negligence or malpractice. That is my mission and my commitment to people around the country.”