In Law, what is Mental Anguish?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Mental anguish is psychological distress which is experienced as a result of traumatic events. In law, there may be cases in which people can be awarded damages for this distress they have experienced if they can demonstrate that the wrongdoing of someone else contributed to or created the state of anguish. For example, the family members of a murder victim might sue the murderer for mental anguish in a civil case.

Kidnappings may be a source of mental anguish.
Kidnappings may be a source of mental anguish.

Psychological distress can take a number of forms, including depression, grief, fear, stress, anxiety, humiliation, and fright. In order to be considered mental anguish for legal purposes, it is usually necessary to provide documentation which demonstrates that the psychological issues experienced were intense, were linked to the actions of someone else, and were out of character for the person who experienced them. Someone with a history of depression, for example, might not necessarily be allowed to claim mental anguish on the grounds of depression.

Civil suits often mention mental anguish, and seek to recover damages for the distress.
Civil suits often mention mental anguish, and seek to recover damages for the distress.

People can experience this type of distress as a result of being tortured or threatened, being forced to witness acts of depravity such as torture, murder, or rape, or being severely injured as a result of wrongdoing. Someone who loses a leg in a car accident, for example, might argue that the experience of the loss and the recovery was accompanied by mental anguish. Other events which might cause psychological distress include kidnappings, public humiliations, or incidents which lead to the development of post traumatic stress disorder.

Mental anguish can take a number of forms, including grief.
Mental anguish can take a number of forms, including grief.

Suits for mental anguish are usually seen in civil courts, and may be accompanied with requests to pay other types of damage. In the example in the first paragraph, for instance, the family could also sue for lost wages, arguing that the murderer deprived the family of a wage-earner and the money she or he might have brought into the household. When deciding on what types of damages to sue for, lawyers generally consider the facts of the case, the potential ability to pay the damages, and the prevailing legal culture in the area where the case is being held. If a judge is known for being tough on mental anguish cases, for example, a lawyer might opt to focus on other types of damages.

Mental anguish is psychological distress.
Mental anguish is psychological distress.

The size of an award for mental anguish can vary, depending on the nature of the crime, the judge, the evidence presented in court, and other factors. It is important to be aware of the fact that in most nations, lawyers are not allowed to directly solicit clients or to compensate people for soliciting clients on their behalf. If a lawyer approaches with an offer to set up a civil suit, she or he may be violating standards of conduct established by the bar association.

People suffering from mental anguish may self-medicate.
People suffering from mental anguish may self-medicate.
Someone with a history of depression may not necessarily be allowed to claim mental anguish on the grounds of depression.
Someone with a history of depression may not necessarily be allowed to claim mental anguish on the grounds of depression.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

anon928764

If I am being harassed at work and my company is not doing anything about it, what are my options? The stress of dealing with this harassment every day with no backing from my company makes it hard to even go to work or stay focused on the job.

anon348407

@anon299455: In this world, anyone can sue anyone else for anything. However, filing a legal claim against parents for directly causing your PTSD might be a stretch. It would be very difficult for a judge to determine actual monetary damages even if you did prevail.

A minor child might be able to bring charges against abusive parents, and those parents' actions may have contributed to that child's PTSD, but once all parties become legal adults, it becomes a case of "he said, they said".

Child abuse is a criminal charge, but bad parenting is just unfortunate. A good lawyer could argue that your PTSD was caused by any number of traumatic incidents, not just abuse you claim to have suffered at the hands of your parents.

anon299455

Can I sue my parents for giving me PTSD?

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