Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) After a Car Accident

Psychological Injuries From Car Accidents

Over three million people are involved in automobile accidents that cause serious bodily injuries each year in America. Of those three million at least 10 percent of those injured later suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. The phrase "automobile accident" for purposes of discussing posttraumatic stress disorder can mean car accidents, SUV collisions, motorcycle accidents, trucking accidents, and even pedestrian and bicycle collisions. That is, when bicyclists or pedestrians are struck by motor vehicles. If you are a survivor of a serious motor vehicle accident you should understand the potential symptoms related to PTSD. Studies have found that auto accidents are the single leading cause of PTSD in the general population. Physical injuries may heal in time, but survivors of vehicle accidents may find that they continue to experience emotional difficulties. It is important that you seek professional help if you have concerns about your mental health following a car accident.

PTSD is a complex disorder that can occur after injury or exposure to a traumatic experience. It is a common misperception that PTSD occurs only with war veterans or civilian victims of war. However, vehicle accidents have received more attention within the medical community as of late because it has become more evident that survivors of car accidents often suffer in a variety of ways in the aftermath of a crash. In one study done in Albany, New York it was found that of the 158 survivors surveyed who had recently experienced a serious motor vehicle accident, 39.2 percent later developed symptoms of PTSD.

This is not to suggest that everyone in a car accident will sustain psychological injuries like PTSD, but some will. PTSD can affect anyone and is not restricted by age, gender, race, ethnicity, or socio-economic background. Since trauma can come in many forms it is difficult to make generalizations as to why some people develop PTSD symptoms and why some people resolve their problems without complications or treatment. Likewise, it's very difficult to generalize symptoms of PTSD. Clinically though, symptoms of PTSD have been grouped into three basic categories:

  • Re-experiencing the traumatic event: Recurring memories, dreams or feelings and anxiety about the event.
  • Avoidance: Avoiding situations reminiscent of the original trauma like certain activities, places, or thoughts, or reluctance to talk about the event. Some describe their symptoms as being emotionally numb. Many survivors become very uncomfortable getting back into a car.
  • Irritability and sudden anger, difficulty concentrating or sleeping. Overt or hyper agitation as well as a tendency for being startled or upset easily.

In general PTSD can affect an individual's ability to perform daily chores such as driving, bathing, eating, paying bills, shopping, doing their laundry or focusing on their job. PTSD can also slow the physical rehabilitation process for someone with physical injuries. PSTD can create an avoidance towards stimuli associated with the trauma and can therefore interfere with daily personal interactions. A simple thing like a conversation about the trauma can become the triggering event for recurrent and intrusive recollections. This can lead to the further avoidance of activities, feelings, or conversations about the traumatic event. You can find out more information about PTSD from two helpful guides which can be found here.

At least 70 percent of adults in this country have experienced a traumatic event at least once in their lives and some studies suggest that up to 20 percent of these people can go on to develop PSTD. An estimated five percent of Americans, more than 13 million people, experience PTSD symptoms at any given time. Symptoms of PTSD usually manifest themselves within 1-3 months of a traumatic occurrence like a serious car accident. However, some cases can take up to a year before an individual begins to recognize the stress factors associated with PTSD. Typical emotional responses to PTSD might involve intense fear, helplessness, detachment and anger.

One conclusion from a study of Long-Term Outcomes of Motor Vehicle Accident Injuries found that "psychological complications are persistent after injury in a motor vehicle accident, and are associated with adverse effects on everyday activities." In this study, 171 individuals who represented consecutive multiple-injury and whiplash victims were given a series of assessments within the span of five years. Sixty percent of the individuals surveyed reported feelings of anxiety about travel (whether as a driver or as a passenger). Thirty three percent of motorcycle users reported that they had given up using a motorcycle entirely. Many of those that reported experiencing travel anxieties at three months continued to report such problems at five years. Thus, it's very important that victims of motor vehicles accidents be aware of the value of recognizing symptoms of PTSD early and seek appropriate treatment.

If you feel like you may have PTSD symptoms after a motor vehicle accident and have questions about the legal implications, contact a Portland area personal injury attorney at Angel Law, P.C.. We can help answer questions you may have.