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PTSD from a Car Accident: Recognizing and Understanding the Symptoms

Posted on August 17, 2023

PTSD, which stands for post-traumatic stress disorder, is a serious condition that can develop after terrifying events like violent auto accidents. Sufferers involuntarily relive the trauma through intrusive memories, nightmares, and anxiety that won’t subside over time.

According to the National Center for PTSD in the United States, 5% of adults (or 5 out of 100) suffer from PTSD each year, and about 13 million Americans had PTSD in 2020. Further, PTSD is more common in women than in men as approximately, it has been found that 8 out of 100 women and 4 out of 100 men will experience PTSD at a certain point in their lives.

These invisible psychological wounds can be just as debilitating as physical crash injuries if left unaddressed. Understanding PTSD signs and sources of help is crucial for accident victims to properly cope with traumatic aftermaths and reclaim normal life functioning.

In this article, car accident attorney Whit Drake will cover the key symptoms, and treatment options, and provide answers to common questions about recovering from post-crash PTSD.

Definition and Diagnosis of PTSD

PTSD is formally defined as a mental illness triggered by experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event involving actual or threatened death or injury. The latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders outlines specific criteria for clinically diagnosing PTSD after trauma, including:

  • Intrusive memories and nightmares about the event
  • Avoidance of trauma-related thoughts, feelings, and reminders
  • Negative mood and cognitive changes after the event
  • Hyperarousal symptoms like being easily startled

Symptoms must persist for over a month and cause significant life impairment to meet diagnostic thresholds. PTSD is categorized as an anxiety disorder given its hallmark symptoms of fear and anxiety that cannot be controlled. The unexpected terror and helplessness associated with major car crashes often act as triggers for developing debilitating PTSD that impedes normal functioning.

Common Symptoms and Signs

While PTSD symptoms vary by individual, car accident victims may experience:

  • Flashbacks: Reliving the traumatic crash through vivid intrusive memories and nightmares. Sights, sounds, or smells related to the accident can trigger flashbacks. The vivid mental images come without warning and feel like reliving the actual event.
  • Avoidance: Avoiding driving, travel, cars similar to the crash, and numbing emotions or memories associated with the trauma. Accident victims may alter routes, withdraw socially, or use alcohol to avoid confronting trauma reminders.
  • Anxiety and Hyperarousal: Feeling on edge, easily startled, tense, and having difficulty relaxing indicative of anxiety. PTSD patients can experience panic attacks, elevated heart rate, nausea, and shakiness when faced with accident reminders.
  • Negative Thoughts: Having a negative mindset with loss of self-worth, self-blame, detachment from others, and catastrophic thinking. Car accident PTSD can fuel depression, irrational self-criticism, and a bleak philosophical outlook overall.
  • Sleep Disturbances: Insomnia, restless sleep, and nightmares related to the crash disrupt normal sleep patterns. Car crash-related nightmares often involve visions of careening out of control or crashing repeatedly.

Ongoing refusal to absorb the trauma and constant anxiety impedes daily functioning and takes a heavy toll without proper treatment. Understanding key PTSD indicators enables earlier recognition.

Coping Strategies and Treatment

Though challenging, PTSD after car accidents can be overcome through comprehensive treatment strategies.

Therapy Methods

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure therapy, and processing trauma emotions facilitate recovery. CBT helps identify and reframe negative thought patterns stemming from the trauma. Exposure therapy slowly re-exposes patients to trauma reminders in a safe environment to desensitize PTSD associations.


Antidepressants, anti-anxiety meds, and sleep aids can be prescribed to manage symptoms. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Zoloft and Paxil have commonly used antidepressants that can lessen PTSD symptoms for some patients.


Relaxation practices like meditation, yoga, deep breathing, and mindfulness training counter anxiety. Regular mindfulness meditation sessions train patients to stay grounded in the present moment to prevent slipping into flashbacks and intrusive thoughts.

Support Systems

Support groups, opening up to loved ones, journaling, creative arts, exercise, and animals can provide emotional outlets and healing. Local in-person or online PTSD support groups facilitate sharing struggles and solutions with fellow trauma survivors.

Integrating psychotherapy, medication, self-care practices, and social support systems has proven most effective in guiding accident victims beyond the shadows of PTSD. The professional treatment creates hope for overcoming mental trauma.

FAQs About PTSD from Car Accidents

What percentage of car accident victims develop PTSD?

About 9% of car accident victims develop PTSD according to research, with higher rates for those injured or at fault for the collision.

Can a minor car accident cause PTSD?

Yes, even minor car accidents can cause PTSD in some people if they experience trauma from the incident.

How long after an accident does PTSD start?

PTSD symptoms may emerge immediately or can take up to a month after the traumatic event to fully manifest.

Can PTSD from a car accident get better over time?

Yes, PTSD symptoms may gradually improve over time, especially with professional treatment and self-care strategies.

Can PTSD be cured completely after a car accident?

With comprehensive treatment methods, PTSD can potentially be overcome eventually, but it requires a commitment to the process.

What triggers PTSD years after a car accident?

Triggers like driving, car noises, anniversary dates of the accident, or even news stories about crashes can flicker PTSD symptoms years later.

Is PTSD from a car accident a disability?

Yes, PTSD is considered a mental health disability if symptoms substantially impair normal functioning.

Can PTSD treatment be covered by car insurance?

Yes, car insurance policies may cover the cost of PTSD treatment under medical payments or personal injury protection coverage.

Should I get a PTSD diagnosis after a car accident?

A clear PTSD diagnosis from a mental health professional ensures proper treatment and enables recovery of accident-related costs.

Does PTSD impact a car accident injury claim?

Yes, the PTSD diagnosis and needed treatment should be included in injury claims, as it often enhances the overall value.

Don’t Endure the Effects of Car Accident PTSD Alone

Surviving a traumatic auto collision is difficult enough without struggling with the lingering effects of PTSD on your own. Here at Drake Law Firm, car accident attorney Whit Drake knows the mental health wounds caused by car wrecks are real and devastating if left unaddressed.

Our compassionate attorneys provide the support and advocacy you deserve to cope with PTSD and recover damages that enable professional treatment. With knowledge of Alabama injury laws, established relationships with mental health experts, and experience helping clients through post-crash PTSD, we are here to guide your path forward.

Don’t stay silent – take the first step and contact our team for a free consultation if a car accident leaves you with psychological trauma.

We’re ready to help you reclaim your emotional well-being. Call (205) 859-2236 or complete our secure online form to schedule your free case review now.

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