Are You Suffering From PTSD After a Car Accident?By Gabriel Levin on September 30th, 2019
A car accident, regardless of whether it causes serious injuries, typically causes a great deal of distress for everyone involved. Whether you caused the accident or suffered an accident due to someone else’s negligence, you may find that trauma carries over after the accident itself, leaving you suffering from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD can have a wide range of symptoms depending on the individual in question and how he or she reacts to stress; however, most victims have one thing in common: PTSD quickly harms their ability to function throughout their everyday lives.
What Is PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder develops after a highly traumatic event. Many people assume that only soldiers suffer from PTSD. In reality, however, any time someone witnesses or suffers through a life-threatening event, including a car accident, he or she may suffer from symptoms of PTSD afterward. Immediately after a traumatic event, most people struggle with difficulty sleeping or struggle to concentrate on their daily lives. You do not necessarily have PTSD if you cannot immediately return to work, school, or other everyday activities after your car accident, even if you do not have substantial physical injuries. On the other hand, if psychological symptoms linger for weeks or months after the accident, you may have PTSD.
Common Symptoms of PTSD After a Car Accident
The symptoms of PTSD vary. Some individuals may have severe cases, while others show more minor symptoms that they can control with some counseling or other advice. Common symptoms include:
Struggling With Nightmares
After a severe car accident, you may struggle with incredibly vivid nightmares that feel as though your dreams transported you directly back to the scene of the accident. You may wake up shaking, shouting, or struggling, or you might wake with adrenaline still pounding through you. Some people clearly remember these dreams afterward; others may remember only vague impressions of the dreams themselves, but struggle from disrupted sleep following those nightmares. Over time, you may not want to go to sleep because you fear that the accident will play out in your mind all over again.
While some people with PTSD remember the car accident only in dreams, others find that those memories follow them into the waking world. Some people have flashbacks about the accident. Reminders of the accident, including similar weather, a bump in the car, or driving past the scene of the accident, can trigger flashbacks; other times, flashbacks appear with no noticeable trigger, catapulting you back to the accident scene in your memory without warning.
Some people, following a car accident, may avoid anything that even remotely reminds them of the accident. You might be attempting to avoid a trigger for a flashback or nightmare, or you might not want any type of reminder. Individuals with PTSD after a car accident might choose to avoid people from the accident scene, the site of the accident, or in extreme situations, even riding in cars until they can better control their PTSD symptoms.
Increased Agitation or Irritability
Some people with PTSD become agitated or irritated more easily than they did before the accident. You might discover that you snap at your children or spouse more often, or that you have less tolerance for things at work than usual. You might suffer anxiety over things that previously would not have caused anxiety, or you might find that you grow increasingly agitated in normally comfortable circumstances.
Depression or Numbness
PTSD does not just trigger agitation and anxiety. It can also trigger depression, complete with symptoms of worthlessness and struggle to engage in activities that once brought joy. Other victims of PTSD after a car accident may feel emotionally numb, unable to engage in any type of emotional reaction regardless of the situation. The victim may block both positive and negative emotions as a coping mechanism that helps prevent further negative reactions.
Even if you did not cause the accident, you may find yourself reliving those moments in your mind, wondering if you could have done anything differently. You might wish you had gone another direction, slowed down a little, or made a different choice behind the wheel. Even if you caused the accident, suffering from ongoing, crushing guilt that paralyzes you or makes it difficult for you to move on with your life could indicate PTSD. Seeing a psychologist can help determine the source of that guilt.
As PTSD symptoms exacerbate, many victims choose to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol to avoid those symptoms. Addiction can quickly spiral out of control, leaving the accident victim with even more problems than before.
Living With PTSD
Living with PTSD, or living with a loved one with PTSD, can cause serious changes to your entire life. PTSD often means compromising what you can do, where you go, or what you feel up to handling on a day to day basis. You may not have the ability to predict what will cause PTSD symptoms or when they will appear. Some of these strategies help many people deal with PTSD.
Solid, predictable routine often helps root people with PTSD, giving them something to hold on to when they feel adrift or anxious. You may find that creating a daily routine or ritual makes it easier to keep your mind on the present and avoid flashbacks. Your routine may look as simple as the route you take to work each morning or the place you choose to have breakfast, or it could be as complicated as the entire ritual you use to get up and ready for work. Breaks in routine can increase anxiety, which in turn raise the risk of PTSD symptoms.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Many car accident victims with PTSD choose cognitive behavioral therapy to help them address the underlying symptoms of anxiety and manage flashbacks or nightmares about the car accident. Often, cognitive behavioral therapy takes months or even years to fully resolve PTSD symptoms. Some people find that cognitive behavioral therapy digs up memories that they would rather keep buried, making the recovery process even more difficult.
Refuge in Normal Activities
Following a serious car accident, many people find value in normalcy, in returning to things that you would have done before the accident. You may need social support from loved ones to make it easier to handle even activities that you once handled with ease on your own. Sometimes, you may need to leave those events early to help manage anxiety or flashbacks. Try some of these strategies:
- Look for a safe space when you go out. You might, for example, designate a safe space in your office where you can go calm down if you start to feel anxious or feel a flashback coming on. If you head out to an unfamiliar location, you might take refuge in your vehicle or in a restroom until you can calm down.
- Go out with a loved one. If you usually attend your daughter’s basketball games alone, you might ask your spouse to accompany you. Simply having support at your side can make it easier to handle those events. Try to share with your loved ones what you need. Ask that they let you lead the conversation and that they support you, but not necessarily force you into things you do not feel ready to do. Let friends know that you still want invitations to go out, but that you may need more support than usual.
- Designate a safe word that lets your spouse or friend know you need to leave. If you have the support of a loved one, designate a safe word that will let them know when you start struggling. Make it a word or phrase you can use casually but that will let them know you have a problem, whether an emerging flashback or increasing anxiety. A safe word can also help you handle explosions of anger with your family members following the accident. When a loved one says the safe word, you know that you have flown out of control and need a chance to calm down.
In many cases, lifestyle changes can help reduce symptoms of anxiety. You may find, for example, that avoiding caffeine while making sure you get adequate sleep each night can decrease flashbacks and improve your ability to cope. You may also want to try:
- Eating healthy foods, rather than relying on a fast-food diet
- Getting more exercise. Strength training and cardio combined can strengthen your body and mind at the same time.
- Drinking plenty of water to keep yourself well hydrated.
With PTSD, as well as with many other types of disorders, your physical wellness will tie directly into your mental health. When you take care of yourself physically, you create a better foundation that will often make it easier for you to cope with the mental symptoms of PTSD.
Often, mindfulness activities, including journaling, can make it easier to deal with PTSD symptoms. You may need to learn to pause and consider what caused anxiety or triggered a flashback, for example. As you learn to identify those triggers, you may get better at avoiding them—or, in some cases, at learning to cope with them. Some people find that meditation helps them find a calmer place inside themselves, while others prefer to journal out their frustrations and anxiety. Working with a therapist can help you find fresh ideas or identify the strategy that works best in helping you cope.
How Does PTSD Affect Your Claim After a Car Accident?
Following a serious car accident, you may notice PTSD symptoms developing or growing over time. Does PTSD affect your personal injury claim after a car accident? Consider these key factors.
Emotional injuries also count as injuries.
When you file a claim after your car accident, you will include all of your injuries—including any emotional injuries that occurred due to the accident. Like physical injuries, PTSD can limit your enjoyment of your everyday life. Some people cannot return to their former jobs after the accident. Others may struggle to participate in activities with friends and family, or even to get into a car. These symptoms cause every bit as much difficulty as a physical injury. As such, you should include them in your claim. Talk to a car accident lawyer to determine how to include PTSD symptoms as part of the pain and suffering you deal with every day after your accident. You may also want to include any medical expenses associated with PTSD, including counseling, inpatient care if required, and any needed therapies.
You may seek compensation for time lost at work due to PTSD.
If you have to miss work due to PTSD symptoms, whether it’s an inability to get into a vehicle or struggling to concentrate on your work, you may seek compensation for those lost hours as part of your claim. If you work as a driver and find yourself struggling with flashbacks that make it difficult for you to keep up with your job responsibilities, especially if you cannot return to work at all after the accident, you should seek compensation for lost earning potential.
PTSD does not change the liable party in the accident.
While PTSD may change the claim amount you can receive, including compensation for pain and suffering and for counseling expenses associated with the accident, it does not change the liable party in the accident. Following a car accident, the police officer on the scene may fill out a report that indicates who bears responsibility. You may also work with a lawyer to help provide liability in your accident. Your PTSD symptoms will not factor into this equation: if you caused the accident, for example, you cannot seek compensation from the other party just because you have PTSD symptoms.
If you need an experienced car accident attorney after a serious accident, especially if you have PTSD symptoms, contact one as soon as possible. An attorney can help decrease the stress associated with your claim and make it easier for you to seek the compensation you deserve for your injuries.