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When Car Accidents Cause PTSD

When most people hear the term post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), they think of veterans who have suffered trauma during combat. However, PTSD could happen to anyone who suffers a traumatic event, including a violent personal assault, a grisly car accident, rape, a natural disaster or a terrorist act.

PTSD has been around for many years, but professionals have called it by different names. After World War I, professionals call it “shell shock.” After World War II, professionals called PTSD “combat fatigue.” According to The American Psychiatric Association, about 3.5 percent of adults in the United States have PTSD. Post traumatic stress syndrome lasts more than a month and often lasts for many years.

PTSD Symptoms

PTSD is an anxiety condition. Your mental health professional will give you a test if he or she believes you might suffer from PTSD after a traumatic event. You might exhibit some or all of the symptoms of PTSD.


If you often have negative thoughts or feelings about yourself, you are always afraid of something, or you feel anger, horror, shame or guilt and do not have an interest in activities you always enjoyed, you might have a symptom of PTSD. For example, if you think you are always “bad,” or you feel you can’t trust anyone, you have negative thoughts about yourself.

Flashback, Nightmares, and Intrusive Thoughts

Nightmares, flashbacks, and memories that won’t leave your head are all intrusive thoughts. A flashback is like a nightmare—it just happens during the day. Usually, something triggers a flashback. A common analogy is the sound of a car backfiring, reminding you of being shot at in war. Someone banging metal trash cans around might trigger a flashback of a traumatic car accident. you might wonder if there is a specific type of car accident that is more prone to cause PTSD but it’s really just the severity of the accident and how much the victim is personally effected.  Some more severe types of car accidents that could lead to PTSD would include:

Car Crash PTSD symptoms


Once you realize that certain places or sounds trigger flashbacks, nightmares and other intrusive thoughts, you start to avoid those situations. You might avoid an individual, places where groups of people gather, certain activities and situations, or you might even avoid objects in and out of your home because they remind you of a traumatic experience such as a bad car wreck. You might also resist talking about the thing that triggers intrusive memories.


When you react to triggers, you might become angry, irritable, violent or easily startled. Other reactive actions might include self-destructive behavior, not being able to concentrate or having trouble sleeping.

When Does PTSD Start?

You might exhibit signs of PTSD soon after the accident, or even months later. According to the Veteran’s Administration, you might start with uneasy feelings and might not want to do daily activities. You may even resent spending time with people you care for.

If a loved one comments on your behavior, you might visit your mental health professional to discuss your loved one’s concerns. You may have PTSD and not even realize it. Other signs of possible PTSD might include:

  • Stereotyping (this is usually a symptom found in combat veterans).
  • Hitting, punching, kicking or even choking your spouse in your sleep because of a nightmare. You might not remember the nightmare or even hitting your spouse, even if you wake up for a few minutes.
  • The little things that don’t go exactly right seem to irritate you, even though significant things do not irritate you.
  • Trying not to think of the accident, but you can’t get the thoughts out of your head. These thoughts may or may not affect your work or schooling.
  • Feeling guilty for things that happen to yourself or others.
  • Feeling anxious when you get behind the wheel of a vehicle, or even riding as a passenger in the vehicle.
  • Feeling anxious when other vehicles pass you or when you meet oncoming vehicles.

Do I Need a Mental Health Professional?

Not all cases of PTSD are severe or last for months or years. In some cases, symptoms could disappear within a couple of months, even without treatment. However, if you find that your symptoms are getting worse or are lasting for more than a couple of months, you might want to discuss them with your mental health professional. If a car wreck caused your symptoms, you should let your car accident lawyer know that you are seeing a mental health professional about PTSD.

If a car wreck caused your PTSD symptoms, you might recover medical expenses for seeing a mental health professional, especially if you need treatment for the long-term. Meanwhile, try to keep to your normal routine and understand that the symptoms of PTSD are sometimes normal after a traumatic car accident—and that you are not the only one who suffers from PTSD because of a traumatic experience.

Can I Help Myself?

Danielle Richardson, Esq.
Car accident attorney, Danielle Richardson, Esq.

In some cases, you might be able to help yourself, even with professional help. In addition to trying to keep your routine, if a normal situation triggers a flashback, do not shy away from it. Always explain to your family and friends what you are going through so they can help you handle bad feelings or flashbacks in those situations.

Find something that makes you relax. If you’ve had a trying day because of flashbacks and reactive episodes, relaxing helps your mind recover from the episode. You might read a good book, watch a favorite television program, or even work on some crafts. If you find that hiking or even sitting on the porch with a glass of iced tea relaxes you, make time in your day to do just that.

Once you convince yourself that you cannot control everything, recovering becomes easier. And, when you need professional help, do not be afraid to ask for it. PTSD is not something to be ashamed of—it happens to more people than you think.

If you think you have symptoms of PTSD after a car accident, contact your mental health professional. In addition, talk to a car accident lawyer about recovering compensation for the damages you’re trying to fight through.

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