Car Accidents and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)


The first awful moment is when you anticipate the accident – those seconds before the impact has happened but nothing can be done.  Your heart and mind race and you brace.  And then, the impact – tires squealing, horns honking, glass breaking, metal crunching, people yelling, sirens blaring and more.   Unless you have been knocked unconscious, those moments after the impact are spent assessing the extent of any injuries for you and anyone with you.   Other drivers rubberneck and gawk out of morbid curiosity.  Medical treatment is given for the physical injuries.  But for a surprising number of people, psychological injuries need treatment too.  Did you know that car accidents are the leading cause of PTSD in the general population?   Indeed, the numbers may surprise you.

In a study from the National Institute of Mental Health, researchers found that 39.2% of people involved in a car accident in which medical attention was required met the criteria for PTSD.   Of the 39.2% with PTSD symptoms, 53% also met the criteria for major depression.   When you consider that the United States has 6 million car accidents every year, the numbers are alarming.  While accident and injury severity play a role in the likelihood of developing PTSD, researchers found the strongest factor for developing PTSD within 6 months of the accident was the person’s perception of whether their life was in danger during the accident.  In other words, even if the person did not sustain serious injuries, if they thought their life was in danger then they are more likely to develop PTSD.

Following an accident, people can experience a variety of emotions including anger, guilt, shock, confusion, fear, etc.  When these types of emotions persist, they can impact daily life.  If you or a loved one has been involved in a car accident, you should know and watch for symptoms of PTSD, which include:

  1. Avoidance Behaviors – Books have been written on avoidance behavior but, boiled down to its essence in the context of car accidents, it is when you avoid people, things and activities that remind you of the event.  You stop doing things you used to enjoy.  You use drugs or alcohol to forget or avoid remembering.  It can take the form of avoiding other emotional experiences even ones you used to enjoy such as seeing friends or pleasurable activities.
  2. Disturbances in Sleep – an inability to get or stay asleep, nightmares about the accident, etc.
  3. Intrusive Memories – an inability to concentrate because you continue to think about the accident.
  4. Changes in thinking or mood – more pessimistic, feelings of impending doom, etc.
  5. Changes in your emotional response to people, things and events.

Most of us would not hesitate to seek medical treatment for a broken arm or any other serious physical injury, but we hesitate to care for our mind in the same way.   Unlike a broken arm which can readily be confirmed with an x-ray, mental injuries are not as easy to prove.  If you believe you or someone you love is experiencing serious difficulties with adequately coping in the aftermath of an accident, you need to seek help from an experienced mental health provider so that you can get the necessary treatment.  That provider can also help explain to an insurance company, judge or jury how the accident has affected you.  From a legal standpoint, you should document how your mental difficulties are impacting your daily life.  For example, if you are now afraid to drive and instead hire Ubers or taxis for your transportation needs, you need to keep track of those expenses.

If you or a loved one would like to talk to us about a car accident and the physical and mental injuries you have suffered as a result, our award-winning lawyers handle all accident cases on a contingency-basis so we only get paid if we recover money for you and your family.  We offer a free initial consultation so you pay nothing to find out if we think you have a case.  To get started, give us a call.

Nashville: 615-669-3993

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Toll-Free: 866-812-8787




Photo by Matteo Vistocco on Unsplash

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