Coping with PTSD after a Car Accident

Post-traumatic stress disorder (or PTSD) is commonly related to war veterans or those who have been the victims of a horrific crime — such as the witnesses of murder or rape. However, According to the National Center for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD can also affect those involved in tragic motor vehicle accidents as well — leaving them physically and psychologically injured.

Auto accident victims might not even realize or believe they are suffering from PTSD, however, anyone who’s suffered a traumatic event will be at first overwhelmed and frightened. In the immediate after affects of a car collision one might also fear for their safety and be prone to distrust, they might even experience a time of disconnection or numbness around family and friends. Directly following a tragic event it’s also common to have nightmares and forget what happened. Short-term symptoms like these are very normal for a week or even a few weeks following an accident until you work through the emotions associated with the catastrophe and make sense of the reality.

However, if the symptoms don’t dissipate after a few weeks, and even increase as time passes or are triggered each time a reminder of the traumatic event arises (i.e., load noises, images on television, smells), the likelihood of PTSD in you or someone you love could be very real. Look for these signs and symptoms of PTSD:

  • Experiencing fear out of the blue
  • Avoidance or numbness — especially when it comes to talking about the accident
  • Increased anxiety, distress, sadness, or anger
  • Flashbacks or nightmares — re-experiencing the tragedy over and over again
  • Physical reactions distress when reminded of the event — racing heart, rapid breathing, nausea, sweating

If you or someone you love is experiencing PTSD in the weeks and months after a car accident it is important to face the reality and take the following steps to recovery:

1. Research PTSD — educate yourself about the symptoms, be aware of what causes them, and seek possible treatments for PTSD.

2. Get professional help — therapists who specialize in PTSD treatment can help with coping mechanisms, recommend medications and therapies to help with the healing process.

3. Talk about it — the worst thing you can do if suffering from PTSD is ignore the problem in hopes it will go away. Instead, reach out to family members, friends, colleagues, and even a PTSD support group to talking about your feelings and share with other people who have experienced similar tragedies. Human connections will help you cope with stress and deal with PTSD recovery.

4. Keep a journal — recording your feelings and thoughts on paper can be very therapeutic and cathartic.

5. Talk to a lawyer — in most U.S. states car accident victims who sustained emotional or physical injury can seek compensation for psychological injury and associated medical costs.