Baltimore auto accident attorneys

PTSD After a Car Accident: Symptoms and Treatment

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that is often triggered by either experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event. This condition can produce a wide range of uncontrollable symptoms that are detrimental to victims’ quality of life. These symptoms can last for years and may lead to an array of disruptive complications.

There are multiple ways that a car accident can cause a victim to develop PTSD. For example, someone who suffers a particularly traumatic crash may experience frightening flashbacks or nightmares related to their accident. Furthermore, someone who loses a close friend or family member as a result of their collision may incur intense emotional distress. Thankfully, if you developed PTSD as a consequence of your car accident, then you may be entitled to financial compensation.

After your harmful car crash, seek support from our experienced car accident attorneys at Rice, Murtha & Psoras by calling (410) 694-7291 to assess your potential claim for free.

Signs of PTSD After a Car Accident

Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event develops Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. it is normal to feel distressed after a car crash.

Most people who experience trauma may temporarily have a difficult time coping, but in time the difficult feelings subside.

If symptoms get worse, begin to interfere with your functioning and last for months or years, you may have PTSD. PTSD is a mental health disorder that interferes with daily life.

Symptoms of PTSD can vary from person to person and can change over time. You don’t have to have all the symptoms to have PTSD. They are generally grouped into four categories:

Intrusive Memories

Intrusive memories may include nightmares about the car crash, recurrent unwanted memories of the accident that are upsetting or flashbacks of the accident. You may have a strong emotional or physical reaction to something that reminds you of the accident.


After a car accident, a person with PTSD might avoid thinking or talking about the accident. You might avoid all places, people, activities or anything else that reminds you of the trauma.

Negative Changes in Mood or Thinking

There are a number of changes in mood and thinking that may occur when a person has PTSD. Some of them include:

  • Negative thoughts about the world, other people or yourself
  • Feeling detached from family and friends
  • Difficulty experiencing positive emotions
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Memory problems
  • Hopelessness about the future

Arousal Symptoms

Arousal symptoms are changes in physical and emotional reactions. A person with PTSD may always be on the lookout for danger. They may be easily startled or have trouble sleeping or concentrating or have irritable outbursts and exhibit aggressive behavior. They also may be self-destructive.

Options for Treatment of PTSD After a Car Accident

The effects of PTSD can be very painful and debilitating for victims. Fortunately, there are multiple options for treatment. If you suspect you may have developed PTSD as a result of your collision, then you should contact a physician to determine if any of the following treatments are right for you:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of therapy that focusses on addressing the thinking patters, behaviors, and emotional responses associated with PTSD. Generally, it can be divided into two sub-categories.

First, you may undergo a type of behavioral therapy referred to as cognitive processing therapy (CPT). CPT focusses on altering thinking patterns that contribute to the distressing emotional responses associated with PTSD. For example, this therapy may involve education regarding PTSD, a discussion about coping mechanisms like avoidance, an evaluation of symptoms, or a discussion of mortality. The goal of CPT is to developed balance beliefs that may translate into healthy emotional responses.

Alternatively, you may undergo a type of behavioral therapy known as prolonged exposure therapy. This type of therapy involves re-exposure to the elements of trauma under conditions that that allow victims to de-program triggers and reshape their emotional responses. This form of therapy should only be performed by experienced therapists because if re-exposure occurs too quickly, then a victim’s symptoms may worsen.

Prescription Medications

In some cases, prescription medications can be used to treat PTSD. These medications can regulate chemicals in your brain and affect your emotions. For example, someone suffering from PTSD may be prescribed antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication to help cope with their condition. Further, some drugs such as Prazosin may be used to help suppress distressing nightmares. You should talk with your physician to determine if any of these medications may be right for you.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy

EMDR therapy involves moving your eyes a specific way while processing certain traumatic memories. It is another form of treatment that may be used to alleviate the effects of PTSD.

When undergoing EMDR, you will be asked to focus your eyes on a moving object while talking about the trauma that stems from your car accident. It is believed that the eye movements performed while talking about your trauma may help your brain establish new associations with your harmful memory and reduce its potential impact on your emotional wellbeing.

Supportive Psychotherapy

Supportive psychotherapy is a type of behavioral therapy that focusses on problem-solving abilities and the assurance of unconditional support. The goal of supportive psychotherapy is to allow victims to view their accidents less seriously and place their memories in appropriate context with their other life experiences.

Unfortunately, supportive psychotherapy has only proven to be moderately helpful for the treatment of PTSD. Most victims must undergo more effective forms of treatment like CPT or prescription medication.

Animal Therapy

Finally, animal therapy is becoming a common way to help accident victims deal with their PTSD. Psychologists are continuing to study the many benefits of animal interactions.

For example, owners of service animals must develop a routine of walking, feeding, and caring for their pets. Accordingly, service animals like dogs can help give patients extra motivation to get out of bed in the morning.

Also, some service animals can be trained to identify indications of flashbacks and help their owners get out of bad situations. You can talk with your doctor to discuss if animal therapy may be helpful to you.

Other Ways to Deal with PTSD After a Car Accident

In addition to prescription medications and behavioral therapies, there are other ways to deal with PTSD after your car accident. Any of the following methods may be used to manage the distressing symptoms you are experiencing:

Establishing a Predictable Routine

Establishing a predictable routine often helps car accident victims deal with their PTSD by giving them something to fall back on when they feel anxious and adrift. For example, someone who develops a strict daily routine may easily keep their mind on the present and avoid frightening flashbacks. Meanwhile, a break in your routine may create anxiety which causes your PTSD symptoms to escalate.

Seeking Refuge in Normal Tasks and Activities

You may also deal with your PTSD symptoms by seeking refuge in your normal tasks and activities. For instance, you may designate a place in your office as a safe space where you can go to decompress if your anxiety or depression becomes overwhelming.

Another way to seek refuge in your normal activities is by asking for someone to accompany you. For example, if you are nervous about attending a particular social event after your accident, then you may ask for your spouse to accompany you at the event. The feeling of companionship and support brought on by their presence may help you suppress any emotional distress you would otherwise experience.

Finally, you may want to choose a safe word that lets friends and family members know you are in trouble. If you are experiencing emotional distress in a public place, you can use your safe word to comfortably let loved ones know that you need a chance to calm down.

Lifestyle Changes

You may also be able to manage your PTSD by making certain lifestyle changes. Your physical wellness can translate directly to your mental health. Accordingly, there are multiple lifestyle changes you can make that may be beneficial to your emotional wellbeing.

For instance, you may begin eating healthier foods, rather than relying on a fast-food diet. Eating a poor diet can amplify the symptoms of PTSD.

Also, you may help quell the symptoms of PTSD by getting more exercise. Inactivity can cause symptoms like depression and anxiety to worsen. By utilizing cardio and strength training, you may strengthen your mind and body simultaneously.

Finally, simply drinking more water and staying hydrated can help you cope with the symptoms of PTSD. Failing to stay hydrated can cause your mental state to deteriorate.

Mindfulness Activities

Finally, you can manage the symptoms of PTSD by utilizing certain mindfulness activities. For example, keeping a journal documenting your symptoms can be helpful. Furthermore, meditation exercises may help you deal with the stress caused by your accident. You can consult with a mental health professional for help identifying specific mindfulness activities that may benefit you.

Risk Factors for Developing PTSD After a Car Accident

Anyone that suffers a car accident can develop PTSD. However, there are certain risk factors that can increase victims’ chances of experiencing mental distress.

First, your personal and family history may serve as a catalyst for PTSD. For instance, if you experienced certain trauma earlier in your life such as childhood abuse, then you may be at a higher risk of developing PTSD. Furthermore, a history of substance abuse or mental illness can also create a higher risk of suffering from the condition.

Also, there may be a genetic component to mental health disorders like PTSD. If you have a history of PTSD in your family, then your risk of developing PTSD can increase.

Finally, the characteristics of your car accident can play a role. For example, crashes that result in fatalities and catastrophic injuries are more likely to cause PTSD. If you believe that your accident was life-threatening, then you are more likely to experience emotional distress.

Other Emotions You May Feel After a Car Accident

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 37,000 people died in car crashes in 2016. More than three million people were injured. Accidents leave physical scars, but they leave emotional ones too.

Right after the accident, you may be in shock. But once that subsides you may have feelings of guilt, fear, anxiety, depression or stress that can linger for some time.

Not everyone feels the same emotions, but it’s good to acknowledge you’ve been through an unexpected trauma and know it’s normal to have a reaction. and it’s good to know at what point you might need help.

Here’s some common emotions to be aware of:

You May Be Fearful of Driving After a Car Accident

For some people who have been in a car crash, the idea of getting behind the wheel again, or even in a car again, can be very frightening. A person may be afraid that he or she will get into another accident.

The person may have driven for years without an accident, but the recent trauma may cause them to avoid driving altogether.

There may be fear of killing or harming a loved one in your vehicle if you drive. Or perhaps a fear that you may harm others on the roadway.

Some might feel that their anxiety behind the wheel will be so great that they may suffer from a panic attack. They then are further afraid to drive because they fear this attack will cause another accident.

You May Feel a Great Sense of Anxiety After the Crash

Aside from feeling fear of driving, you may of a general feeling of unease. You may be experiencing anxiety. According to the Mayo Clinic anxiety symptoms include, but are not limited to:

  • Feeling a sense that something bad is going to happen–a sense of doom
  • Having difficulty controlling worry
  • Feeling nervous, restless or tense
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Sweating
  • Having an increased heart rate
  • Breathing rapidly
  • Having trouble thinking about anything else except what worries you
  • Trembling

You May Experience Depression After an Auto Accident

If you’ve been seriously injured in a car wreck, your life might have taken a 180. You might not be able to do the same things you could do before.

Your work and social life may be affected. This is a lot of additional stress and can leave victims of car accidents at high risk for depression.

In addition, symptoms of depression are common in people that suffer from chronic pain. One study found that whiplash after traffic accidents can lead to depression.

But the emotional trauma of being in a car wreck can put people at risk for depression who were not seriously injured as well. Even minor auto accidents are very stressful events.

Depression is different than just feeling sad. it is a mental health disorder and its symptoms include:

  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and helplessness
  • Pessimism and hopelessness
  • Loss of interest in things that were once pleasurable
  • Persistent sad, anxious or “empty” feelings
  • Irritability
  • Changes in your sleep
  • Changes in your appetite
  • Digestive problems that don’t respond to treatment
  • Trouble remembering details, concentrating and making decisions
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent suicidal thoughts or thinking about death

Depression can be felt in the body too, as headaches, cramps, aches or pains that just won’t go away. You may feel guilty like the automobile accident could have been prevented

When to Get Help

While it’s normal to feel distressed after a car accident, there is no reason to suffer long term. A phobia of driving, anxiety, depression and PTSD are real mental health disorders and there are ways to treat them.

If you have upsetting thoughts or feelings for more than a month after your car accident, talk to your doctor or mental health professional.

If your symptoms are severe or they’re getting in the way of you functioning, you don’t have to wait that long. There are people who can help you.

If You Suffered a Car Accident, Contact Our Law Firm for Assistance

Get help from our experienced car accident attorneys by calling Rice, Murtha & Psoras at (410) 694-7291 for a free review of your potential lawsuit.