Can a Car Accident Cause PTSD?
Over 3 million people are injured in motor vehicle accidents every year. With those odds, most people will be involved in at least one car accident in their lifetimes. Injuries don’t just take a physical toll on victims, but they can also cause emotional trauma and associated disorders. Many people associate post traumatic stress disorder with veterans returning home from wartime. In actuality, PTSD is also very prevalent among those injured in auto accidents, who are fighting an internal battle within themselves between continuing with their normal lives and dealing with the emotional trauma of their accident.
PTSD can have an impact on a victims’ emotional and physical health, their relationships, their jobs, and their enjoyment in life. Symptoms may develop immediately after the accident or they could take months to manifest. Everyone is different, and PTSD is not a sign of weakness. It is a mental disorder that occurs when the brain cannot process the trauma of an event, which causes the person to relive the experience over and over again. The most common symptoms of PTSD in car accident victims include:
- Flashbacks and nightmares
- Avoidance and numbing
- Being “on guard”
- Muscle aches and pains
- Feelings of panic and fear
- Irregular heartbeats
Why PTSD Occurs
There are several possible explanations as to what causes PTSD in the first place. From a psychological standpoint, when we are in a frightening or harrowing event, we tend to remember things more clearly, a way for our brains to recall threatening events and better plan for future ones. Because the pain is so detailed, our brain tries to override the information, which is next to impossible as the memory is so deeply rooted into the brain itself. The numbing and avoidance keeps the flashbacks down to a manageable level, but the person will then constantly be on guard, ready for battle at the next new threat. Physically, when we feel threatened or stressed, our bodies produce adrenaline. Having constant flashbacks of the traumatic ordeal may keep adrenaline levels higher than normal, keeping the person in a constant state of stress, anxiety, or panic.
In car accidents, some people will witness the accident about to happen, but be unable to stop it because the cars are moving too fast or they are not the one driving the vehicle. It can be especially traumatizing if you are you’re driving with someone close to you who is injured or does not survive the accident. Every time the person then gets in the car, you associate the experience with pain, loss, and imminent fear.
Who is Most Affected
Studies have shown that approximately 9 percent of motor vehicle accident victims will develop PTSD as a result of their experience, and many more will develop at least a few symptoms. There are several risk factors that will increase someone’s likelihood of developing PTSD following a car accident. Such risk factors include:
- Having a history of other traumatic events and experiences
- Suffering from anxiety, depression, or other mental disorders prior to the accident
- A family history of psychological problems
- Losing someone during the traumatic event
- Whether the accident was life threatening
- If they received mental support following the accident
Although it can be difficult, the best way to work through PTSD after a car accident is to seek emotional support. Whether that is in a therapist, a family member, or a friend, it’s best to try to start doing the normal things you did before the accident. You’ll learn to work through the emotional trauma and begin to live your life again.
Contact our firm at (267) 457-5570 if you or someone you love was injured in an auto accident and is suffering from emotional damages.