The issue of pre-existing psychiatric impairment is always difficult for examiners. The usual situation is that a person who has had problems with anxiety or depression and has had or has continued to have a course of psychiatric or psychological treatment or counselling.
In my view there are a number of matters that need to be considered including the following has there been a diagnosable psychiatric disorder?
Has the diagnosable psychiatric disorder required treatment?
Has the diagnosed psychiatric disorder lead to any area of impairment? The examiner has to look to see has there been any problems with regard to employment, relationships, recreational activity, drug or alcohol abuse or other significant behavioural issues such as gambling, aggression, withdrawal and unexplained physical illness.
It is not sufficient for the examiner to say that on the basis of how this person was after the accident it is likely that they had a pre-existing impairment. The examiner has to demonstrate that prior to the accident the pre-existing impairment was manifested by a reduction in level of function or had been diagnosed by a competent clinician.
The task of the examiner is to determine all these factors in the period prior to the accident or incident that led to the claim.
The examiner is then required to determine whether there has been any change with regard to this pre-existing psychiatric disorder. Is factors indicating any change would be a deterioration in function such as ability to work, relationship difficulties, the development of drug or alcohol-related problems that seems to be arising from this pre-existing condition and any changes in treatment for the pre-existing condition such as an increase in medication, an altered frequency of treatment, hospitalisation and so forth.
The examiner can only determine these matters at the time of the examination. It should be a critical part of the examination for the examiner to closely question the claimant’s level of function in the period prior to the incident or accident.
When examining the claimant the stamina has to separate out that impairment arising from the work or transport accident injury as opposed to that impairment arising from the pre-existing condition or an unrelated subsequent condition. This relies on data such as the matters described above. The examiner should be able to provide sufficient data to make a convincing case to a layperson for the presence absence of any pre-existing psychiatric disorder bearing in mind that the presence of a disorder does not necessarily mean any level of impairment. The examiner has to bear in mind that there is a difference between having a psychiatric diagnosis and having a level of impairment.
For example a person who has had a significant depressive disorder but has been appropriately treated and has been on maintenance medication for some years with no reduction in their quality of life including their work capacity, their relationships and their recreational enjoyment cannot be regarded as having any level of impairment. It may be that if that person stopped taking medication their condition would deteriorate and what they would then have some level of impairment but this is a matter of conjecture. The critical issue is that even if they are taking medication is there any pre-existing level of impairment?
In terms of assessing the level of impairment arising from the pre-existing condition at the time of the examination the examiner should look at those symptoms due to the pre-existing impairment and attempt to relate them to the descriptors and the GEPIC and on that basis form an opinion as to what class and to what level in that class this pre-existing impairment now rates.
The examiner is then required to subtract that from the whole person impairment (bearing in mind that the whole person impairment relates to pure mental harm as consequential mental harm will have been removed.