PTSD After a Serious Car Wreck

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PTSD After a Serious Car WreckWhat is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)? After someone goes through a traumatic event or life threatening situation it is not uncommon for that person to experience anxiety, flashbacks of the event, nightmares, increased jumpiness, etc.  This has often been associated with war veterans or persons who have been physically or sexually assaulted, however, it’s also possible someone  to experience PTSD after a serious car wreck, as well.  If the symptoms last longer than three months, create great stress, and disrupt work or home life it is important that person seek help.

Due to the high volume of commuter and personal travel in the United States there is increased incidence of personal injury and even fatalities.  “In any given year, approximately 1% of the U.S. population will be injured in motor vehicle accidents (MVA). Thus, MVA’s account for over three million injuries annually and are one of the most common traumas individuals experience.” [U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs; National Center for P.T.S.D.]


Although not everyone involved in a car wreck will develop mental health problems, those that due generally experience PTSD, major depression and anxiety disorders.  This may range from anxiety when driving to an outright fear of driving.  On study reported that 15% of serious car wreck survivors reported a phobia of driving.

The risk factors for developing PTSD after a serious car wreck can be broken down into 3 sets of variables.  Basically, pre-accident variables, accident related variables, and post-accident variables.

  • Pre-accident variables would include things like the person having had a poor ability to cope with stressful or traumatic events previously, pre-accident mental health issues such as depression, and a poor social support system.
  • Accident related variables would include things like the amount of physical injury, the potentially life threatening injuries, and the loss of significant others in the accident. As the amount of injury and fear of dying increase, the change of developing PTSD also increases.
  • Finally, post-accident variables that can be predictive of the development of PTSD following a serious car wreck may include the rate of physical recovery from injury, the amount of social support the person has from friends and family as well as the level of active re-engagement with both work and social activities. Survivors of an automobile accident should be encouraged to maintain as much of their pre-accident lifestyle to the extent that their physical injuries and/or limitations will allow.  This coping strategy along with as much support from friends and family as possible tends to lead to positive outcomes.

What kind of treatment is there for PTSD after a serious car wreck?

One thing different about automobile accident-related PTSD that is different from PTSD caused by other traumas is the increased chance of developing a chronic pain condition.  Common treatments may include behavior therapy, cognitive therapy, and medications.  Working with a chronic pain specialist is often useful in helping the person manage the physical pain caused by the accident.  Whether one treatment is used or a combination of treatments are used, it is best to recognize symptoms early on and get help!