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Car Accidents and PTSD: How To Treat Accident Trauma

When many of us think about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), our attention may turn towards military veterans. Service men and women are regularly faced with challenges that can be life-threatening, and even when not in direct combat, the stress of the military can take an enormous toll. However, PTSD can also affect people involved in a circumstance our catastrophic case managers know all too well — car accidents.

According to the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs, approximately 9% of car accident survivors develop PTSD. Their research finds that most people who are in a serious auto accident do not develop PTSD even if they sustain other major injuries. Accident trauma is extremely common in these cases, including a phobia of driving, yet most people express that their symptoms gradually dissolve over time. However, for those accident survivors that fall into that 9%, PTSD will develop.

There is no clear diagnosis for PTSD from car accidents, but there are factors that doctors and mental health professionals look for. Signs and symptoms are often highly personal and differ from case to case, but there are pre-accident, accident-related, and post-accident variables that help professionals determine if someone has PTSD:

  • Pre-accident: Before the car accident, individuals struggle to cope with previous traumatic events, the presence of depression or another mental health issue, and poor social support. A family history of depression and PTSD and a history of past abuse in any form are also contributing factors that can make someone more susceptible to PTSD.
  • Accident-related: The size of the impact is a major factor that can trigger PTSD following a car accident, as can physical injury and loss of a significant other. The driver is not the only person who can be affected by a serious accident—witnesses and passengers in or out of the car are also at risk.
  • Post-accident: Factors like the rate of physical recovery, level of social support, and re-engagement in work and social activities are some of the crucial triggers of identifying PTSD. Symptoms can arise quickly or gradually, sometimes taking years to even become clear, and are often associated with re-experiencing the event, avoidance and numbing, and increased anxiety and emotional arousal.

Treatment of PTSD is based on the symptoms and severity of each case determined by a medical or behavioral specialist. Recovery is mainly about restoring the nervous system back to its state of balance pre-trauma. This can be obtained through a combination of various kinds of therapy, personal sessions with a therapist, medication, and also with the support of positive social interactions. Unfortunately, PTSD usually cannot be fully cured, but it can become manageable. Treatment can help lessen symptoms and provide comfort.

If you or a loved one have sustained catastrophic injuries or PTSD due to a car accident, our dedicated Case Managers are here to help. Our Case Management services provide care coordination and advocacy to help clients achieve an optimal level of wellness and functional capability. Contact us or call today to speak with a trusted professional: 877.538.5425.

Sources and Additional Information:
Todd Buckley, PTSD: Traumatic Stress and Motor Vehicle Accidents, National Center for PTSD (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs)
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Helpguide.org
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, University of Pennsylvania Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety

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