Imagine for a moment that you’re driving home from work in the driving rain. You see an enormous puddle up ahead and pump your brakes so you won’t hit it at top speed.
This causes you to hydroplane across three lanes of traffic, whereupon you get slammed by a speeding semi-truck into a guardrail. You emerge with little more than scratches and bruises. However, these are not your only wounds.
Those who have never been in a severe wreck may wonder, “Can you get PTSD from a car accident?” Let’s take a closer look at PTSD and how it functions to arrive at the answer.
What Is PTSD?
PTSD is the common abbreviation used for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a mental health condition associated with the mental scars left by a traumatic event.
In the past, it was known as shell shock or combat fatigue and only diagnosed in veterans. However, as psychology and psychiatry have evolved, PTSD symptoms have been noticed in the aftermath of a number of traumas.
What Causes PTSD?
So, what sort of trauma can cause PTSD? Aside from the most publicly acknowledged combat service, any number of things can cause this mental health condition, including:
- Surviving natural disasters, pandemics, and extreme weather events
- Experiencing violence, physical or sexual, firsthand
- A difficult or unwanted childbirth
- Seeing or hearing about other people being hurt or killed
- Working in a toxic environment for long periods
- Domestic or childhood abuse, and
- Being involved in a car accident
Any one of the above traumatic events could cause you to experience PTSD or PTSD-like symptoms.
Can You Get PTSD from a Car Accident?
We’ve addressed this in the section above, but to restate the obvious: the answer to the question, “Can you get PTSD from a car accident?” is a resounding “yes.”
In fact, PTSD from an accident is incredibly common. Researchers found that between a quarter and a third of all car accident survivors experience PTSD symptoms within thirty days of their accident.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Car accidents are terrifying, often life-threatening experiences. The more severe the crash, the longer it will take for someone’s mind to recover after the fact.
How to Tell If You Have PTSD
Now that we’ve established without a shadow of a doubt that you can have car accident PTSD, you might wonder how to tell if you have it. If you’ve recently been in an accident and need to know if you’ve developed PTSD, you should look out for these common symptoms.
Flashbacks to traumatic events are often seen as the most common symptom of PTSD. During these flashbacks, you may feel as if you’re still living in the moment the trauma happened, despite not being in the same situation. You may or may not be aware of your actual surroundings, depending on the severity of the flashback in question.
Another common symptom of PTSD is recurring nightmares surrounding the traumatic event. So, if you keep waking up in a cold sweat night after night while having nightmares about being in a car crash again, you might have a car accident PTSD.
Avoidance of Similar Situations
Those with PTSD, whether through conditioning or in an effort to compartmentalize, may avoid similar situations to their trauma. In a car accident victim, this may present as avoiding certain sections of the road or refusing to drive altogether.
Physical Stress Symptoms in Similar Situations
Even if you don’t experience flashbacks when in situations that remind you of your accident, you may still feel physical stress symptoms. For example, you may subconsciously tense up or feel your heart race as you drive along the road where you had your accident. Or, if the conditions are similar to the accident, you may feel yourself start hyperventilating.
Extreme Anxiety and Reactivity
This sense of extreme anxiety and reactivity can carry over into other areas of your life, not just those surrounding your trauma. Those with PTSD often experience high levels of irritability, an inability to relax, and a constant feeling of being “on-edge”. This is due to their fight or flight systems not recognizing that the danger is behind them.
Distortions in Memory and Cognition
You may also find that you have trouble recalling the car accident, despite having no noticeable brain injury. Memory loss or memory suppression is a common symptom of PTSD. It’s a result of the brain compartmentalizing the event to help protect you.
Additionally, you may experience bouts of depression, self-blame relating to the trauma, or isolation. These are normal symptoms of PTSD that should be mentioned to your doctor or therapist.
Treatment Options for PTSD
If any of the above symptoms sounded like something you’ve experienced, then you may have PTSD from your car accident. With that in mind, let’s review some treatment options that may help you to heal and recover.
One of the best ways to help treat your PTSD symptoms is psychotherapy. In general, there are two main therapeutic techniques used to benefit those with PTSD. These are cognitive restructuring and exposure therapy. Let’s discuss each in further detail.
Cognitive restructuring, as the name might suggest, helps a person with PTSD restructure their thinking around the traumatic event. It helps them to make sense of what happened.
Those with PTSD may not recall the event as it happened in reality. They may also feel an unwarranted sense of guilt or shame over events that weren’t their fault. Cognitive restructuring helps them to reframe their thinking in a more realistic light.
Exposure therapy, like cognitive restructuring above, is exactly what it says on the tin. This type of therapy aims to help PTSD sufferers by exposing them to their trauma in a controlled dose and safe environment.
The idea behind this is to build someone’s resilience to the trauma by inoculating them to their symptoms in a safe space. In exposure therapy, you may think or write about your car accident. Alternatively, you may visit the place where it occurred with your therapist on the phone with you.
Therapy is incredibly helpful, but do not discount the value of a strong support network. In the aftermath of a car accident, you’ll need all the mental and physical support you can get. Common pillars of your support network may include:
- Family members and spouses
- Close friends
- Trusted co-workers
- Counselors and religious leaders
- Your pets
Seek comfort and support from those you can trust, and it can help reduce the severity of your symptoms.
In the most severe cases, or in situations where your PTSD is comorbid with another mental health condition, medication may be required. Medications for PTSD typically treat the symptoms rather than the root cause, as the root cause is the memory of the traumatic event.
How to Get Diagnosed With PTSD
If you need to prove that you have PTSD for a legal case (more on that below), you need an official diagnosis. Getting diagnosed with PTSD is often as simple as speaking with your general physician or therapist about your symptoms. If they find your symptoms line up with those listed in the DSM V, they should be able to record an official diagnosis.
Can You Get Legal Compensation?
Now we come to another thorny matter: can you get legal compensation for PTSD in the aftermath of a car accident? Or rather, can you sue for PTSD?
The answer, as with many things legal, is that it depends. You can, but proving your case might be difficult. Technically speaking, PTSD would fall under emotional distress. Check it out: you can file suit for this! However, proving your case may be difficult. Here’s why.
It’s All a Matter of Perspective
It’s difficult to assign a monetary value to your mental distress. That alone makes it hard to file for damages in court. To make matters worse, it’s difficult to convey the severity of your symptoms in a court of law.
Pain and Suffering Only Applies to Severe Cases
If your accident was a “normal” car crash, and not one where the opposition demonstrated gross negligence, you might be out of luck. Emotional distress is a ‘pain and suffering’ type of damage. This only gets applied as a punitive measure to the most egregious cases.
In severe car accidents, you’ll have an easier time proving this.
Let’s Review the Facts
Can you get PTSD from a car accident? Yes, you can, and its symptoms can wreak havoc on your daily life.
There are many treatment options available to you if you develop PTSD. But while you can file for damages against the other person, you may struggle to prove your case in court.
However, don’t let that discourage you. You can recover from PTSD after an accident. Do you need more tips and tricks to help in your recovery? If so, feel free to check out our blog each day for more informative articles like this one.