The experience of being in a car accident can be traumatic and frightening, so it should come as no surprise that car accidents are the leading cause of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the general population. Unfortunately, car accidents are not an uncommon occurrence, with about six million happening in the U.S. every year, about half of which result in injuries. With car accidents being such a frequent and widely-experienced event, it makes sense that for many people, an accident is their most likely catalyst for developing symptoms of PTSD. About 25-33% of motor vehicle accident survivors were found to suffer from PTSD at least 30 days after their accident.
Risk Factors for Developing PTSD After an Accident
One of the greatest predictors for developing PTSD following a car accident is the presence of other mood disorders. In one sample of car accident survivors, 41% of those meeting the criteria for PTSD also reported symptoms consistent with a major depressive episode. Anxiety disorders and substance abuse were also found to coexist with PTSD relatively frequently. Chronic pain afflicted about 69% of PTSD sufferers after a motor vehicle accident, according to one study.
High levels of emotion during or after a traumatic event like a car accident can increase the risk of developing PTSD. So, too, can a history of prior trauma, prior psychological adjustment problems in response to stressful life events like divorce or job loss, a lack of social support following a traumatic event, or experiencing episodes of dissociation (feeling unconnected to reality and one’s sense of self).
The interesting thing is that the actual severity of injuries and the seriousness of the accident don’t seem to have much effect on whether a person develops PTSD. Instead, the more important factor seems to be how the person felt and reacted to the accident. The perception of one’s life being in danger was the strongest predictor of PTSD six months following an accident.
Avoidance behaviors and obsessive thinking about the incident were also found to be strong indicators of developing PTSD. PTSD is frequently considered a form of anxiety disorder, and it shares many characteristics with the symptoms of typical anxiety disorders. Believing that your life was in peril during a car accident, for example, can cause someone to develop avoidance behaviors, like refusing to get in a car or drive on a highway. Avoiding the actions that led to negative experiences can make a person feel safe and in control. This, in turn, reinforces indviduals’ belief that driving is dangerous, strengthening their resolve to avoid the experience.
Symptoms of PTSD
It is common and normal to be highly emotional following a car accident. You may experience emotions such as guilt, shock, helplessness, and fear. Usually, these feelings should fade over time, but if someone has PTSD, they not only don’t go away, but they may even worsen as time goes on. If you find yourself exhibiting such symptoms as avoidance behaviors, intrusive memories or flashbacks, and negative thinking and mood changes following a car accident, you may have PTSD. If your negative behaviors seem to be getting worse, more frequent, or more disruptive to your life, you should get yourself evaluated for PTSD.
How to Get Better
If you’re suffering from PTSD following a car accident, the first step to getting healthier is getting properly diagnosed. You should discuss your symptoms with a doctor or therapist, who will be able to tell you if you have PTSD and what you can do about it. Options for treatment may include therapy or medication.
The lingering effects after a car accident may not only be physical but psychological and emotional as well. Psychological trauma can be far more damaging than physical trauma and much harder to heal. Don’t discount mental injuries when considering the effects of an accident on your life.
About the Author: Michael Davis is the Content Director of Miami’s On the Map Marketing, Inc. As the chief content editor of one of the fastest-growing internet marketing firms in the country, Michael has made it his mission is to provide high-level, factual, and error-free content that emphasizes the best SEO practices and helps his company’s clients convert sales. When he’s not writing, Michael writes his own industry-specific content for various publications.
If you’ve been consulting accident lawyers about pursuing damages for your car accident injuries, don’t forget to mention your emotional and psychological injuries. PTSD is a very real and very damaging affliction. Therapy and medication can be expensive, and those responsible for your injuries may be found liable for these costs as well.
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