A car accident can be a scary experience. In addition to physical injuries, a serious motor vehicle accident can cause emotional trauma. It’s not uncommon for people who have been in an auto accident to report feelings of anxiety, fear, and an inability to stop thinking about the accident. In many cases, these symptoms go away over time. But in some cases, these symptoms persist for months or years after an accident due to a mental health condition known as post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Recognizing the signs of PTSD and getting the necessary treatment are essential components to recovering from an accident on moving on with your life.
Why You Need a Auto Accident Injury Lawyer
It’s not unusual or unnatural to want to put an accident behind you as quickly as possible. For many car accident survivors, recovery means getting treated for physical ailments, and simply trying to forget about the accident.
Unfortunately, sometimes healing from an accident is not so straightforward. Physical symptoms can persist in the form of disabling pain and motor difficulties, making it a challenge to return to work and to pay mounting doctors’ bills. Mental health symptoms, too, may emerge or worsen over time, also hampering a person’s ability to work, maintain relationships, and perform daily functions.
A personal injury claim is not just about recovering money. It’s also about making you whole again. Post-traumatic stress can have a significant impact on a car accident victim’s day to day life. It harms them emotionally, physically, and financially. A qualified personal injury attorney can help you understand your rights to fair compensation and help you truly begin to move forward with your life.
What Is PTSD?
According to the PTSD Alliance, post-traumatic stress disorder is an anxiety disorder that develops as a direct response to a traumatic or life-threatening event. Doctors frequently diagnose PTSD in survivors of military combat or physical abuse, but any traumatic event, including a car accident, can trigger the onset of the disorder. Around 3.5 percent of American adults currently live with PTSD. One in thirteen Americans will develop PTSD at some point in their lives. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIH), symptoms usually develop within three months of the trauma, but in some cases, a patient may not have any symptoms until years after the event.
Persons previously diagnosed with depression or anxiety run a higher risk of developing PTSD than those without that mental health history. Statistically, women have a higher likelihood of experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress than men. There is also research evidence to suggest that the severity of the trauma and the strength of a person’s personal support system can influence the likelihood of developing PTSD. Knowing these risk factors can help you recognize the signs of PTSD and make it easier for you to get help.
What Accidents Can Cause PTSD?
In 2017, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles reported over 400,000 motor vehicle accidents. Of these accidents, over 40 percent involved an injury of some degree. That statistic likely underreports injuries, because it likely does not take into account the mental health effects of surviving an accident. While it’s easy to recognize a broken bone or bruises, the signs and symptoms of PTSD can be easy to miss. PTSD can happen after any accident, but it is most common after an accident in which the victim felt a threat to their life or personal safety. This typically happens in severe accidents. Accidents that victims may find particularly difficult to overcome include:
- Roll-over crashes: Rollovers can happen as a result of a high-speed crash. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that rollover crashes have a higher fatality rate than any other type of accident. As such, living through one can inflict extreme emotional trauma. According to the NHTSA, vans, SUVs, and small trucks have the highest risk for rollovers.
- Head-on collisions: Head-on collisions typically occur when one vehicle veers into the lane of another vehicle traveling in the opposite direction. These accidents may occur because a driver turns the wrong way, swerves to avoid a hazard, or drives under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Head-on collisions can cause searing memories for crash survivors, particularly if others in the accident lost their lives.
- T-bone crashes: T-bone crashes or side-impact crashes usually happen at intersections. These accidents can occur when there is inadequate directional signage or when a driver ignores the traffic signals. In addition to the initial impact, the force of the collision may cause the vehicles to collide with other objects or vehicles. Survivors of these accidents can experience extreme stress and difficulty when they return the road and must confront crowded or confusing intersections.
- Drunk driving accidents: Driving under the influence diminishes a driver’s ability to react appropriately on the road. In 2017, drunk drivers injured nearly 3,000 persons. Common accidents include side-impact crashes, wrong-way accidents, and rear-end accidents. Many times, these accidents involve high speeds, increasing the potential for injury, trauma, and the loss of life.
Signs and Symptoms of PTSD
If you have ever experienced depression or anxiety, you may dismiss some of your reactions to an accident as normal. However, PTSD differs from anxiety and depression in the way it manifests itself and in its duration. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, a PTSD diagnosis can only happen after someone experiences symptoms for at least one month after a traumatic event. Additionally, someone who suffers from PTSD may see a direct connection between the symptoms the circumstances of the accident. Common symptoms of PTSD that you should not ignore include:
- Recurring and distressing memories of the accident including flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, or nightmares.
- Psychological distress in response to reminders of the accident i.e. gasoline or burning rubber.
- Inability to discuss the accident or the inability to remember parts of the accident.
- Feeling of detachment, a disinterest in activities, or a desire to withdraw from others.
- Feelings of negative self-worth or blame for the accident
- Problems with sleep including insomnia and nightmares.
- Irritability or mood swings
- Difficulty concentrating
- Easily startled or heightened vigilance
- Avoidance of things or places that remind you of the accident. In many cases, this will involve taking an alternate route to avoid the scene of the accident.
In addition to psychological symptoms, someone who is dealing with PTSD may experience unexplained physical symptoms. PTSD can affect both adults and children. In children, symptoms may include:
- Acting out
- Increased clinginess to a parent or adult
Understanding Your Treatment Options
Treatment is an important component of healing from PTSD. While there is no cure, treatment can help someone experiencing PTSD manage the symptoms. One of the most common forms of treatment is psychotherapy. In many cases, it is helpful to discuss the accidents and any lingering fear it makes the individual feel. Cognitive restructuring can help someone who experiences guilt or shame over an accident.
If anxiety causes a person to avoid events or places, such as driving, exposure therapy may help that person get over their fears. In some cases, a doctor may determine that medication is the best option. Antidepressants are typically prescribed to treat PTSD, usually in conjunction with regular therapy. If you think you may have PTSD, help is available. Do not hesitate to contact a doctor to see what type of treatment is right for you.
Proving PTSD After a Car Accident
Sadly, insurance companies often try to downplay a victim’s injuries after a car accident to diminish the benefits that they will have to pay. This is particularly true with psychological injuries like PTSD. Because no imaging or blood tests support a PTSD diagnosis, insurance companies frequently dispute whether the diagnosis is valid.
Like any injury, the first step in proving PTSD is to visit a physician. Generally, a primary care physician will refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist when you display symptoms of PTSD. The mental health provider will discuss your symptoms and will want to hear about your accident.
In addition to a medical opinion, friends and family can testify to changes in your behavior. If you experience sudden mood changes, for example, or find yourself unable to participate in activities you previously enjoyed, family members will likely note these changes.
PTSD and Personal Injury Claims
PTSD can have far-reaching effects. Just like any other injury, struggling with PTSD can affect many independent facets of your life. If you experience PTSD after an accident, many factors will affect the amount of damages you should receive. This includes:
- Medical bills: Medical treatment associated with PTSD may include cognitive therapy and medication. If long term treatment is required, you may have a claim for future medical costs.
- Time loss: The psychological symptoms associated with PTSD can make it difficult to concentrate or perform your job at your previous capacity. PTSD is just as serious of an injury as a physical injury that keeps you from work. Time loss benefits will compensate you for time missed at your job.
- Vocational retraining: In some cases, the symptoms of PTSD may interfere with your ability to return to your job. For example, if you have difficulty driving after your accident, you may have difficulty returning to a job that requires you to drive. In this case, retraining may be appropriate.
- Loss of enjoyment: Anxiety and fear can limit your desire to participate in activities you once enjoyed. This includes driving. If PTSD has substantially interfered with your quality of life, an experienced personal injury lawyer can help you seek appropriate compensation.
- Loss of consortium: It’s not just the victims of an accident that are affected. In many cases, PTSD can cause a person to withdraw, withhold affection, and lose the desire to participate in activities with their loved ones.
How Long Do I Have to File a Personal Injury Claim?
The symptoms of an injury may not always appear directly after an accident. This is especially common with PTSD. Because of the delay in the onset of PTSD symptoms, many victims do not realize that they are struggling until months after the precipitating trauma.
Florida’s statute of limitations requires all personal injury claims to be filed within two years of the date of the accident. While two years may seem like a long time, the longer you wait to seek treatment, the more the insurance company will try to discredit you. If you are experiencing any of the above-mentioned symptoms or are having difficulty moving past your accident, you should seek medical treatment right away.
A Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help
Millions of Americans struggle with PTSD every day, yet nearly half don’t seek help for their symptoms. The best way to move on from your accident is to focus on healing while a legal professional takes care of working on obtaining the compensation you need. Each personal injury case is unique and each individual has different needs.
Auto accidents can be difficult to handle on your own. That’s what car crash lawyers are for—they can fight for a fair and just compensation so that you can focus on your recovery.