Crashing metal, a spinning vehicle, and pain: car accidents cause a great deal of trauma in the space of a few short seconds. Worse, you may find yourself trapped in the vehicle after the accident, unable to move due to your injuries or the damage to your vehicle. Unsurprisingly, many people suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after car accidents. The more severe type of accident, the greater the likelihood of emotional trauma. After even a minor car accident, however, you may find yourself living with symptoms of PTSD.
Learn what a skilled legal expert at Boohoff Law with years of experience in dealing with these types of cases can do for you.
What Is PTSD?
PTSD occurs when you experience or witness a highly traumatic event. Following that trauma, you may experience a wide range of symptoms, from revisiting the event over and over again in your mind to suffering heightened levels of anxiety in your everyday life, even when you go nowhere near a vehicle or the scene of the accident. PTSD not only causes severe emotional disturbances and damage relationships with friends and family members.
Car accidents often prove highly traumatic both for people in the vehicle and people who witness the accident. During a car accident, you may experience extreme pain and fear. The vehicle may move unpredictably, causing you to wonder whether you will survive. Some victims of car accidents experience extreme injuries that change their lives completely: traumatic brain injury, spinal cord damage, or amputations, for example. Even minor injuries, however, can leave a lasting emotional impression on the victim.
PTSD: The Symptoms
PTSD has a wide range of symptoms that may vary from one person to the next. The absence of some of the symptoms of PTSD does not necessarily indicate that an individual is not suffering from PTSD. However, the following common symptoms could indicate that an individual is struggling with PTSD.
An individual with PTSD may struggle with anger, both related and unrelated to the event. Anything that triggers the feelings of helplessness or pain associated with the accident can also trigger anger along with it. The individual suffering from PTSD can lash out unexpectedly or grow angry as a result of triggers completely unrelated to the accident.
Intrusive Thoughts and Feelings
When suffering from PTSD after a car accident, the victim may struggle with intrusive thoughts. Most people naturally have intrusive thoughts: thoughts that get stuck in the mind in spite of their unpleasant nature. For individuals with PTSD, those intrusive thoughts may grow much more severe and get much harder to eliminate. Intrusive thoughts and feelings can leave the victim feeling helpless, uncomfortable, or increasingly angry.
Reliving the Accident and Flashbacks
In some severe cases of PTSD, the victim may struggle to get thoughts of the accident out of his head. He may find himself thinking about the incident over and over again, reliving it. He may look for ways that he could have avoided the accident or could prevent future accidents, or he might try to figure out who to blame for the accident. Many individuals with PTSD become obsessed with their accidents, talking about them constantly or reviewing them repeatedly.
Flashbacks take that revisiting to the next level. Instead of simply remembering or going over the details of the accident, during a flashback, the victim may feel as though he or she is right back at the scene of the accident. Visual stimulus, hearing, and even touch can all go back to the accident itself. Sometimes, flashbacks trigger because of outside stimuli: a smell, sound, or sight that reminds the victim of the car accident. Other times, flashbacks may have no apparent stimulus, coming on instead due to internal stimuli.
Following an accident with serious injuries, many people fall into depression. Sometimes, however, that depression can represent a greater symptom of PTSD. When depression interferes with everyday life, including making it difficult to function normally, the individual may need counseling or even medication to help pull out of that spiral.
Anxiety can exist alongside depression or in isolation. Individuals with PTSD after a car accident may struggle with increased anxiety over getting into a vehicle, whether driving or as a passenger. Driving past the location of the accident may increase that anxiety. Others may have a generalized increase in overall anxiety, including feeling anxious about unfamiliar situations, going out in public, or interacting with people. These anxiety symptoms may obviously relate to the accident, or the overall increase in anxiety may seem to have little to do with the accident itself.
While some people with PTSD reach out to loved ones to help them through this difficult period, others isolate themselves, deliberately pulling back from contact with others. These victims may feel that others do not understand what the victims must deal with after their accidents. Victims may not want to burden others with such negative feelings. As PTSD symptoms increase, the victim may withdraw further and further from even close friends and family members.
Some individuals with PTSD find themselves sleeping more often, sometimes to avoid interactions that could trigger thoughts about the accident. Others may struggle to sleep at all. Nightmares, including both nightmares about the accident itself and nightmares about other situations that bring on anxiety, could make it difficult to get a good night’s sleep.
Many people with PTSD struggle to concentrate on anything, especially if it does not involve their accidents. Victims may struggle to pay attention to work tasks or to complete everyday household chores. Worse, however, victims of PTSD may struggle to concentrate on movies, games, and other things that once brought pleasure.
Startling More Easily
Along with the increased anxiety that goes along with many cases of PTSD, many victims startle more easily than they did before their accidents. An individual with PTSD may slam on the brakes suddenly over a minor problem on the road or become startled when someone walks up behind him.
Following a serious car accident, many drivers will go out of their way to pay more attention to other vehicles around them to avoid the possibility of a future accident. Individuals with PTSD, however, may take it further: some sufferers may attempt to pay attention to everything going on around them on the road, while others may show increased jumpiness and need to pay attention to everything going on in other situations, as well. Hyper-vigilance may cause a PTSD sufferer to prefer to sit with his back to the wall, or to need to sit in the front passenger seat when not in control of the vehicle, since it makes the road more visible.
Many individuals with PTSD will avoid things that remind them of their car accidents. Some may struggle to get into a vehicle at all, especially the same vehicle that was involved in the accident. Others may avoid the scene of the accident, even if that means taking a much longer way around to avoid the scene. In some cases, the individual may attempt to avoid driving or even getting into a car if at all possible.
Dealing with injuries, including mental trauma, takes a great deal of energy. Many car accident victims find themselves fatigued more often, needing more rest to recover, or even avoiding previously-enjoyed activities due to heightened levels of fatigue. Victims with PTSD may show even more fatigue as they struggle to handle their mental and emotional symptoms.
After a car accident, especially a car accident with serious injuries, individuals with PTSD may contemplate suicide or have suicidal thoughts and tendencies. If the individual caused the accident, particularly if the accident severely injured or killed another individual, he or she may feel that the world would be better off without him or her in it. Victims with PTSD may feel that family members are tired of providing care for them or that their families shouldn’t have to deal with the aftermath of the accident.
Coping With PTSD
Some people with PTSD find that symptoms disappear on their own over time. Others seek solace in religious communities or in friends and family. Victims of car accidents who suffer PTSD, however, should discuss their symptoms with a doctor to help determine whether further treatment could aid in a successful recovery. Coping with PTSD may include:
Cognitive Processing Therapy
In cognitive processing therapy, the therapist helps identify the negative thoughts and feelings caused by PTSD: “This was my fault,” “I don’t deserve to be here anymore,” or “These injuries are my punishment for X,” for example. Then, the therapist works with the individual to help rescript those thoughts into something more positive, sometimes eliminating them altogether.
By taking charge of thoughts, the theory states, victims can slowly change their emotions and the way they deal with the accident. Cognitive processing therapy can also help identify the roots of negative thoughts, allowing victims to understand and challenge where those thoughts arose.
Prolonged Exposure Therapy
Many individuals with PTSD have thoughts and feelings about the traumatic incident rise up out of control, often at highly inconvenient and distressing moments. During prolonged exposure therapy, the therapist will work with the victim to bring up events related to the accident in a controlled way.
Over time, this helps decrease the patient’s emotional reaction and makes it easier to deal with the aftermath of those responses. The therapist can also work with the victim to help change perceptions of the trauma or to focus on some of the good that came out of it, rather than focusing on just the bad. This may include looking at the victim’s physical recovery and progress made throughout the recovery process, talking about how the accident could have been worse, or discussing the individuals who helped along the way.
In addition to one-on-one exposure therapy, many individuals with PTSD benefit from group therapy, in which they can safely discuss the car accident with others who have suffered similar accidents. In group therapy, individuals suffering from PTSD can open up about what they experienced with individuals who understand the experience. Group therapy also allows victims to talk about their accidents without having to worry about causing trauma to friends and loved ones, which can make it easier to speak openly about the events of the accident.
Medication cannot “cure” PTSD, but it can provide a stabilizing influence that will negate many of the symptoms associated with PTSD. Using the right medications under the care of a doctor experienced in dealing with PTSD can help victims sleep better, decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety, and handle situations that remind them of the accident. Often, short-term medication use can help jump-start the path to healing or make it easier for victims of PTSD to continue with their lives in spite of their symptoms. Over time, many individuals with PTSD can reduce or eliminate the need to take any medications.
In many areas of psychology, psychologists continue to experiment with animal therapy to learn more about how those interactions can help improve outcomes for patients. Animals offer a judgment-free listening ear to patients with PTSD, who often feel safer bonding and sharing with animals than with people.
Some service animals, including both dogs and horses, can receive specialized training to help identify the indications of a flashback or help victims get out of a bad situation. A new pet or service animal can also provide an incentive for an individual who struggles with getting out of bed in the morning or going outside the house: the dog must go for walks, get fed, and receive care from its master, which can help get the owner moving and prevent a slide into further depression.
If you suffer from PTSD after a car accident, regardless of whether you suffered other injuries in the accident, you may deserve compensation for your pain and suffering. A car accident lawyer can talk to you about the compensation you may deserve for your injuries.
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