Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is most commonly associated with war veterans. However, PTSD can happen to anyone who has undergone a traumatic event, including car wreck victims.
As the American Psychological Association has noted, among non-military individuals, car accident victims are most likely to present symptoms of PTSD. For this reason, every person who has experienced a vehicle collision needs to understand their risks when it comes to developing PTSD.
What is PTSD?
Unlike a broken nose or a bruised rib, PTSD cannot be seen after a car accident. Therefore, it’s a completely invisible type of personal injury that may not make itself known for days, weeks, months or even years after the event. PTSD does not happen to every car accident victim, but it does happen routinely to many. Because car crashes are so intense, they can cause fight-or-flight adrenaline rushes and reactions.
Oftentimes, the brain becomes so overwhelmed that it can’t shut off the resulting behaviors. Put simply, someone who suffers from PTSD feels like the trauma is happening over and over again, which can interfere with everyday enjoyment.
Symptoms of post-accident PTSD
How do you know if you or someone you care about has PTSD after being in a car accident? You might notice some of the common indicators of PTSD listed below.
Many PTSD sufferers report feeling like they’re in shock all the time. They see the world as something out of their reach because they no longer feel a connection with others. Their emotions are completely out of touch and buried.
One of the most troubling aspects of PTSD is that it can cause the victim to recollect the accident again and again. Not surprisingly, undergoing the psychological feeling of being in a crash all the time is jarring and depressing.
Sometimes, a PTSD sufferer will develop new phobias, such as the need to avoid certain places, which can limit their ability to work or maintain relationships with family and friends.
Compulsive behaviors are repetitive actions that a PTSD sufferer feels compelled to do, such as the need to wash their hands a certain number of times after using the restroom. The behavior often gives them a feeling of stability and control, even though it may reduce their ability to interact and respond to everyday situations and tasks in a healthy way.
PTSD post-accident victims may feel like the world is out to get them. They may display hyper-vigilance and stay up at night, concerned about what may happen. They may not be willing to get behind the wheel of the car, or take any type of transportation, for fear of a repeat collision.
Intrusive thoughts are unpleasant or unwanted thoughts that won’t go away. They can cause feelings of anger, fear, frustration and disgust that get worse over time as the thoughts or images continue to repeat in the person’s head.
Mood swings are extremely common in PTSD sufferers. It’s also common for them to experience extreme emotions that are inappropriate to the situation. For example, their happiness might quickly become mania or their irritation might become fury.
In car accident victims, hypersensitivity often manifests behind the wheel. They might become fearful, defensive, extra vigilant or more prone to road rage at the slightest provocation.
Common expressions of depression include fatigue, insomnia, feelings of hopelessness and pessimism, and a lack of interest in one’s usual activities. PTSD sufferers can have depression as an initial symptom, and they can also fall into depression after an extended period of struggling with PTSD.
Car accident victims with PTSD might have nightmares about their crash, or they might have trouble falling or staying asleep due to feelings of anxiety.
Decreased focus and attention span
Some people with PTSD have trouble with their concentration. It’s often connected to greater feelings of depression, fatigue and numbness. If it happens behind the wheel, it can lead to an increased chance of another accident, but it can also interrupt everyday activities that have nothing to do with cars or driving.
Treatment for post-crash PTSD sufferers
The good news for any person who’s been in a car crash and subsequently diagnosed with PTSD is that treatment is available. Usually, treating PTSD involves some combination of psychological therapy and medication to ease symptoms.
There’s no singular treatment that works for everyone, so if you or a loved one is struggling with PTSD, you might have to try different options to find the right one for you. With time and patience, PTSD victims can regain hope, wellness and personal enjoyment.
Below are some of the most common treatments for PTSD.
While severe PTSD will need to be treated by a professional, milder versions can be successfully managed at home. Strategies for coping with PTSD include:
- Identifying and avoiding triggers
- Attending support groups
- Breathing exercises to remain calm in times of anger or distress
- Holistic medicine for stress relief
- Meditation techniques such as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR)
There are several types of therapy that can be beneficial for PTSD sufferers, including car accident victims.
- Exposure therapy is a therapy that’s popularly known for treating phobias, but it can also be used to help car accident victims, especially those who are afraid to get back behind the wheel.
- Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) is specifically designed to treat PTSD and other trauma-related disorders. Its goal is to teach PTSD sufferers about emotional regulation, how to understand and process trauma, and how to use adaptive coping strategies in their everyday lives.
- Psychodynamic therapy is a therapy that can help people understand their behaviors and emotional responses. While it won’t treat the underlying causes of PTSD, it can prevent PTSD sufferers from lashing out due to PTSD symptoms like fear, anger and depression.
Medication for PTSD usually comes in the form of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). These are anti-anxiety and depression medications that can help people cope with negative moods and mindsets. They can also be used to rebalance brain chemistry after a traumatic accident, including a car accident.
Common forms of SSRIs/SNRIs include Zoloft, Paxil, Prozac and Effexor. These medications are only available by prescription, so speak with your doctor if you’re experiencing PTSD symptoms so they can determine which medication and dosage may be right for you.
Columbia accident attorneys at Chappell, Smith & Arden, P.A. work with post-accident PTSD sufferers to recover damages
Recovering from PTSD can be a slow, expensive process. An experienced injury attorney can help you or your family member recover damages to help pay for medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering related to post-crash PTSD.