Can a Car Accident Cause PTSD?

PTSD after car accident

Being in a serious car accident is among the most common traumatic events a person may experience in their lifetime. Although posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is frequently associated with combat veterans, witnessing or experiencing any serious or life-threatening event can result in PTSD. 

Everyone knows that treating your physical injuries is top priority when you’ve been in a wreck. But all too often, the very real mental and emotional injuries caused by an accident are left undiagnosed. Like any other injury, PTSD after a car accident should be treated by a professional as soon as possible for the best possible outcome. Learn more about the signs, symptoms, and treatment options for car accident PTSD from the personal injury lawyers at Lerner and Rowe Injury Attorneys.

What Is Post-traumatic Stress Disorder?

When you go through something traumatic—whether it be a motor vehicle accident, physical assault, or a natural disaster—your brain responds to the actual or perceived threat by going into fight or flight mode. The heart beats faster and adrenaline is released into the body to help you react to the dangerous situation. 

While this can save your life in a true emergency, sometimes the brain continues to operate in “danger mode” even after a traumatic event has passed. This may cause heightened anxiety (among other symptoms), even in a safe environment. If the brain stays stuck in this cycle of anticipating and re-experiencing intense stress or trauma, a person may develop PTSD. 

How Common Is PTSD After a Car Accident?

Today, motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of PTSD in the general population. A 2018 study that analyzed data from 15 previous studies found that approximately 22.3% of those involved in road traffic accidents developed posttraumatic stress disorder. 

In addition, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) reports that 13% to 21% of car accident survivors develop acute stress disorder, a condition related to PTSD. The symptoms of both are very similar, although acute stress disorder usually resolves within three days to one month from the date of the traumatic event.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Car Accident PTSD?

PTSD from car accident

PTSD is a complex psychiatric illness whose signs may not always be recognizable and whose symptoms don’t always follow the same pattern. However, an individual may be diagnosed with PTSD if they have experienced a serious car accident and exhibit a combination of the symptoms outlined in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders (DSM):

Intrusive Memories and Dissociative Reactions

  • Intrusive, distressing, involuntary, and recurrent memories or dreams of the accident
  • Episodes of dissociation (such as flashbacks) in which the person thinks or feels as if the accident is happening again
  • Intense or prolonged distress when exposed to internal or external cues (i.e., triggers) that remind the person of accident (this may also include physiological responses to triggers, such as sweating, increased heart rate, or vomiting)

Avoidance of Triggers

  • Persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the accident (such as driving, riding in a car, or riding a bicycle)
  • Ongoing avoidance or attempts to avoid distressing memories, thoughts, or feelings in addition to people, places, or activities associated with the car accident

Related: Coping with Post-Accident Vehophobia (Fear of Driving)

Negative Changes in Cognition and/or Mood

  • Inability to remember all or part of the accident (Note: this does not apply to those who suffered a traumatic brain injury or those who were under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the accident)
  • Negative, exaggerated beliefs about themselves and/or their role in the accident (i.e., believing they were responsible for the accident when they weren’t)
  • Persistent negative emotional states such as fear, horror, anger, guilt, or shame
  • Loss of interest in former activities
  • Feelings of detachment or estrangement from others
  • Inability to feel positive emotions such as happiness or satisfaction

Increased Reactivity

  • Increased irritability and/or outbursts of anger with little to no provocation
  • Reckless, self-destructive behavior
  • Hypervigilance
  • Heightened startle response
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Difficulty sleeping

In order to receive a diagnosis of PTSD, individuals must usually have experienced several listed symptoms from each section over a period of more than one month. Additionally, the symptoms must cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social or occupational functioning. Finally, the symptoms must not be attributable to substance abuse or another medical condition.

How Do You Treat PTSD from a Car Accident?

Getting a PTSD diagnosis can be upsetting and scary. The good news is that treatment options for PTSD have come a long way in the past few decades. Your psychologist or psychiatrist may recommend a variety of therapeutic modalities, including:

car accident PTSD
  • Cognitive processing therapy
  • Prolonged exposure therapy
  • Stress inoculation therapy
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
  • Group therapy
  • Antidepressant and/or anti-anxiety medications
  • Alternative therapies such as acupuncture or animal-assisted therapy

With prompt intervention and proper treatment by a professional, accident victims may start seeing improvements in their symptoms within several weeks or months. The earlier someone seeks treatment, the better the prognosis tends to be.

PTSD Sufferers May Be Eligible for Compensation

Post-traumatic stress disorder is just one of the many possible consequences of being in an accident. You may also be struggling with mounting medical bills, lost wages, and temporary or permanent disability. If you lost a loved one due to wrongful death, you may also be faced with end of life costs and funeral expenses. 

Although treatments can be very effective at helping victims cope with PTSD after a car accident, the cost of therapy and medication is just one more bill some can’t afford. If your car accident was caused by the negligence of another person, you could be entitled to significant compensation for your injuries, economic losses, and your emotional pain and suffering— including PTSD.

Understanding all your legal options after an accident is crucial to obtaining maximum compensation. That’s why Lerner and Rowe Injury Attorneys offers free, no obligation consultations to prospective clients in Alabama, Arizona, Illinois, Indiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Tennessee, and Washington. 

We’ll carefully review the details of your case and walk you through every step of the personal injury claim process. Best of all, we charge no fees until we’ve made a financial recovery on your behalf. Contact us 24/7 by calling 844-977-1900, connecting with one of our LiveChat agents, or by filling out this form.

The information on this blog is for general information purposes only. Nothing herein should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.