Mental abuse

Under the law, nursing home residents have the right to be free from mental abuse. They also have the right to be treated with dignity and respect. Unfortunately, these rights are often violated by nursing home staff members who mentally abuse residents. Mental abuse is sometimes referred to as psychological or emotional abuse. Mental abuse is the intentional infliction of anguish, degradation, fear, or distress through verbal or nonverbal acts. Mental abuse in nursing homes can be found in a variety of forms, including :

Verbal Degradation

This type of mental abuse is common in nursing homes. Although many nursing home employees offer kind words to residents, many do not. These staff members may yell or scream at the resident to act in a certain way. For example, they may yell if the resident is eating sloppily or not fast enough. They may also degrade a resident or make sarcastic remarks or insult the resident about his or her inability to control bodily functions.

Verbal Threats

This is more severe than verbal degradation. Verbal threats are often directed toward a particular resident. An example of a verbal threat is when a nursing home employee tells a resident that they will get spanked if they keep soiling their bed or eating sloppily. Another example is telling the resident that they will not be provided with food at the next meal if they don’t eat in a certain way or if they don’t finish all of their food.

Emotional Manipulation

Many nursing home residents are insecure about themselves because they are dependent on the nursing home for many activities of daily living, such as dressing, grooming, and toileting. This can lower a person’s self esteem. When a person has low self esteem and is dependent on another, he or she is oftentimes easily manipulated by the caregiver. Manipulation occurs when one person deviously influences another for his or her own advantage. Many nursing home residents can be manipulated to overlook other forms of abuse for fear of not receiving attention or care. Nursing home residents can also be manipulated to behave in ways that don’t create “problems” for the caregiver, but may create problems for the resident. For example, a nursing home resident may be fearful of the consequences of asking for a drink of water or a snack. As a result, they may place themselves at a greater risk for dehydration or malnutrition .

Emotional Threats

This occurs when a nursing home resident is placed in a position that keeps him or her from speaking out. For example, if one resident sees another resident being abused at the hand of an employee and the employee raises a fist to the witness to keep silent, that constitutes an emotional threat, because it creates the perception that the witness will become the next victim if he or she speaks out. Many nursing home residents quickly learn that they are at a disadvantage in the nursing home, so they are easily silenced because they don’t want to become the next victim of abuse.


This occurs when a nursing home staff member gives the resident the “silent treatment” or isolates the resident from family, friends or regular social activities.

Mental abuse in nursing homes occurs for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Failure of the nursing home to conduct background investigations on employees who have a history of mental abuse
  • Failure of the nursing home to properly supervise staff members
  • Failure of the nursing home to hire a sufficient amount of supervisory staff
    Failure of the nursing home to properly train employees on how to spot mental abuse
  • Failure to provide the proper ratio of staff to patients. Too many patients for too few employees can cause an inordinate amount of stress. Some caregivers snap under the pressure and take their stress out on the patients.

When a nursing home resident is mentally abused, the nursing home may be liable for negligence.