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What Happens if You Get PTSD After a Car Accident?

If you are unfortunate enough to have been involved in a car accident, you’ll know how traumatic it can be. Even if you escape without serious physical injuries, the psychological impact can be significant. Some accident survivors go on to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This mental health condition can disrupt your daily functioning and overall quality of life.

Understanding PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can occur after someone goes through an extremely frightening, traumatic, or life-threatening experience. Some common symptoms of PTSD can include:

  • Flashbacks to the traumatic incident
  • Nightmares and insomnia
  • Avoidance of people or situations associated with the event
  • Heightened anxiety, irritability or anger
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling detached, numb or estranged from others

These symptoms can be severe enough to negatively impact relationships, work performance and overall mental health.

PTSD can develop after any harrowing experience, including combat, assault or natural disasters. However, car accidents are a leading cause of PTSD in the general population. According to a study by the National Institute of Mental Health, over 39% of motor vehicle collision survivors develop PTSD.

Why Car Accidents Can Cause PTSD

There are several reasons car crashes often lead to PTSD:

Life Threatening Danger

Car accidents involve the sudden, unexpected threat of serious injury or death. This activates the body’s instinctive “fight or flight” response. The terror and helplessness in the face of grave danger are key factors in triggering PTSD.

Head Trauma

Head injuries from car crashes can physically damage parts of the brain that regulate fear and stress. This brain damage makes PTSD more likely.

Severity of the Wreck

The more serious and violent the collision, the greater the likelihood of psychological trauma. High speed crashes that result in grave injuries or fatalities have an especially strong association with PTSD.

Guilt or Self-Blame

When there are fatalities or serious injuries, the crash survivor may struggle with guilt – even if the accident was not their fault. This self-blame keeps the experience firmly rooted in the psyche.

Financial Stress

Serious accidents lead to medical bills, lost income and other financial stressors. These compound the emotional toll and make PTSD symptoms worse.

Slow Recovery

Severe injuries with a long, painful recovery process means the trauma stays fresh. This makes overcoming fear and adrenaline-based “fight or flight” responses more difficult.

Preexisting Mental Health Issues

Those with a history of anxiety, depression or PTSD from prior trauma are at higher risk of developing PTSD after severe vehicular crashes.

PTSD Symptoms After a Car Accident

PTSD symptoms can develop immediately after the traumatic event or may appear weeks, months or even years later. There are four main categories of symptoms:

Intrusive Thoughts

The accident dominates your mind with unwanted flashbacks, nightmares or repetitive thoughts. This includes feeling like the crash is happening again.


You go out of your way to avoid reminders of the accident, such as driving or being in vehicles. You may also try to steer clear of people and places attached to the memory.

Negative Changes in Thinking/Mood

You have ongoing feelings of fear, horror, anger, guilt, shame or detachment. This includes losing interest in activities you once enjoyed.

Changes in Physical Reactions

You experience fight or flight reactions like hypervigilance, a heightened startle response, poor concentration or insomnia.

The Effects of PTSD After a Car Accident

Without treatment, PTSD can severely impact your ability to function at work, school and in relationships. Effects may include:

  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Absenteeism or poor performance at work or school
  • Dropping out of school or quitting a job
  • Difficulty parenting effectively
  • Marital conflict, separation or divorce
  • Substance abuse as an unhealthy coping mechanism
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Development of other mental health issues like depression or generalized anxiety disorder

PTSD also takes a toll on physical health. High levels of stress hormones weaken the immune system. PTSD is linked to higher risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, gastrointestinal issues, and autoimmune disorders. Headaches, back pain, insomnia, and other somatic complaints are also common.

The good news is PTSD is treatable, especially when addressed early. But because symptoms can take time to appear, it is important to stay vigilant for signs following any severe accident. Loved ones may notice changes before the PTSD sufferer does.

Getting Treatment for PTSD After a Car Accident

The most effective PTSD treatments include psychotherapy, medication and support groups.


Mental health counseling helps process feelings about the trauma and learn coping strategies. Cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapy are two proven approaches. EMDR and group therapy are also options.


Antidepressants like Zoloft and Paxil help manage PTSD symptoms. Anti-anxiety medication can also provide short-term relief.

Support Groups

Connecting with others who have PTSD can help you feel less isolated. Shared experiences build understanding and support. Support groups may be in-person or online.

Alternative approaches like meditation, yoga and acupuncture may complement traditional treatment. Service dogs can provide comfort and security for some PTSD sufferers as well.

It takes courage to seek help, but overcoming PTSD restores your quality of life. The sooner you take steps to address symptoms, the better. Be patient with yourself and don’t get discouraged if progress feels slow. Healing from trauma takes time.

Consulting a Car Accident Lawyer

Part of healing after a serious auto collision involves holding any negligent parties accountable. A car accident lawyer Las Vegas can identify all liable parties and build a strong claim for maximum compensation. This covers:

  • Past and future medical treatment
  • Lost income and reduced earning capacity
  • Cost of caretaking and household help
  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of companionship for family members
  • Damage to property and vehicles

Though money can’t erase traumatic memories, it reduces financial stress and makes it easier to access treatment. Consultations are free, and legal fees come out of settlement funds – not your pocket.

Don’t wait to get the recovery process started. Contact Karns & Karns Personal Injury and Accident Attorneys today (800) 4-THEWIN. An experienced Las Vegas car accident attorney will protect your rights while you focus on your health. With compassion and diligence, we’ll help you secure the compensation needed to move forward.