Is It Possible to Get PTSD After a Car Accident?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that can happen after any type of traumatic event. Although often associated with war veterans, anyone can develop PTSD after experiencing or witnessing a serious trauma. Serious car accidents can cause post-traumatic stress disorder for victims and witnesses. Car-accident related PTSD could prevent the individual from returning to the road for fear of getting into another accident. It could also cause a range of other symptoms.

If you were recently involved in a serious auto accident, contact us now.

About Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

PTSD is a serious disorder that can last for months or years. It can happen to anyone, at any age. It affects around 3.5% of adults in the U.S. Women develop PTSD twice as often as men. People with PTSD can have intense symptoms that make it difficult or impossible to go about their normal lives. These symptoms can differ from person to person.

  • Flashbacks to the traumatic event
  • Intrusive thoughts and involuntary memories
  • Strong negative reactions to triggers
  • Nightmares and trouble sleeping
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Feelings of isolation or detachment
  • Disinterest in people or things
  • Mood swings and behavioral changes

People with PTSD symptoms after a car accident could benefit from therapy sessions. A therapist can help the crash victim work through traumatic memories through exposure, cognitive, and/or behavioral therapies. Medications to ease anxiety and boost mood may also help someone recover from PTSD after a motor vehicle accident.

The Likelihood of Developing PTSD After a Car Accident

Car accidents can be extremely distressing for victims, bystanders, and witnesses. The severe injuries and pain that can come with serious crashes can scar a person for life – physically and emotionally. Even with therapy and other treatments, someone with PTSD from a car accident may still live with triggers, flashbacks, or anxiety attacks. Although anyone involved in a car accident could potentially develop PTSD, research shows certain risk factors can increase the odds.

  • Losing a loved one in a traumatic accident
  • Living through life-threatening events
  • Suffering a physical injury
  • Seeing someone else with serious injuries, or someone dead
  • Childhood traumas
  • A history of mental illness or substance abuse
  • Feeling extreme fear or horror
  • Having no support system after the event

Research has not shown any significant association between the severity of the car accident and the likelihood of developing PTSD. Instead, it appears to depend on how the individual responds to or perceives the accident. Those involved in life-threatening accidents, who believed the crash could have killed them, may be more prone to experiencing PTSD symptoms. Suppressing and avoiding thoughts about the accident could also increase the likelihood of PTSD.

Red Flags for PTSD After a Car Crash

Most people who get PTSD after car accidents notice symptoms within one to six months. PTSD may not occur immediately after the crash. Instead, it may take days or months to develop feelings associated with PTSD. It may take even longer to notice these feelings and identify them as PTSD. Speaking openly about what you are feeling to others can help you receive a diagnosis faster – thus helping you get treatment sooner.

  • Feeling too scared or nervous to get behind the wheel again, or feeling more on edge than usual while driving
  • Increased heart rate or anxiety when you hear car horns, screeching brakes, or other sounds reminiscent of the car accident
  • Being more vigilant about watching others’ driving behaviors, and noticing potential threats (such as someone speeding) more often
  • Avoiding situations similar to those surrounding your car accident, such as getting on the highway or driving near semi-trucks

Symptoms of PTSD are your body’s natural response to living through a trauma. Your brain wants you to be alert to potential dangers, to save you from experiencing the same trauma again. Be aware of your brain’s response to a recent car accident. If you notice any potential signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, speak to your doctor about available treatments.