Studies have shown that about 10% of those in serious car accidents develop post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

It is normal to have emotional reactions to being in an accident such as shock, disbelief, nervousness, worry, anger, fear or even guilt. You might also keep going over the accident in your mind. You might feel like you can’t stop thinking about it.

All of these reactions are common.

Normally, these types of reactions to an accident get better over time.

Sometimes, though, they do not get better. In fact, they may get worse. They can change the way you think and act, and they can interfere with your everyday life.

When that happens, you may have post-traumatic stress disorder.

What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD?

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.”

You can get PTSD after living through or seeing a dangerous event, such as war or a hurricane. You can also get post traumatic stress disorder from bad accidents. PTSD makes you feel stressed and afraid after the danger is over.

If you develop PTSD symptoms within one month after your accident, this is called acute PTSD. If you don’t develop any symptoms until at least six months after the trauma, this is called delayed onset PTSD.

Symptoms Of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

These are some common symptoms of PTSD:

  • Bad dreams

  • Flashbacks, or feeling like the scary event is happening again

  • Scary thoughts you can’t control

  • Staying away from places and things that remind you of what happened

  • Feeling worried, guilty, or sad

  • Feeling alone

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Feeling on edge

  • Angry outbursts

  • Thoughts of hurting yourself or others.

Children who have PTSD may show other types of problems. These can include:

  • Behaving like they did when they were younger

  • Being unable to talk

  • Complaining of stomach problems or headaches a lot

  • Refusing to go places or play with friends.

Diagnostic Criteria For Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) establishes these Diagnostic Criteria for post-traumatic Stress Disorder . . .

    A. The person has been exposed to a traumatic event in which both of the following were present:

      1. The person experienced, witnessed, or was confronted with an event or events that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others.

      2. The person’s response involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror. Note: In children, this may be expressed instead by disorganized or agitated behavior.

    B. The traumatic event is persistently re-experienced in one (or more) of the following ways:

      1. Recurrent and intrusive distressing recollections of the event, including images, thoughts, or perceptions. Note: In young children, repetitive play may occur in which themes or aspects of the trauma are expressed.

      2. Recurrent distressing dreams of the event. Note: In children, there may be frightening dreams without recognizable content.

      3. Acting or feeling as if the traumatic event were recurring (includes a sense of reliving the experience, illusions, hallucinations, and dissociative flashback episodes, including those that occur on awakening or when intoxicated). Note: In young children, trauma-specific re-enactment may occur.

      4. Intense psychological distress at exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event.

      5. Physiological reactivity on exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event.

    C. Persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma and numbing of general responsiveness (not present before the trauma), as indicated by three (or more) of the following:

      1. Efforts to avoid thoughts, feelings, or conversations associated with the trauma

      2. Efforts to avoid activities, places, or people that arouse recollections of the trauma

      3. Inability to recall an important aspect of the trauma

      4. Markedly diminished interest or participation in significant activities

      5. Feeling of detachment or estrangement from others

      6. Restricted range of affect (e.g., unable to have loving feelings)

      7. Sense of foreshortened future (e.g., does not expect to have a career, marriage, children or a normal life span)

    D. Persistent symptoms of increased arousal (not present before the trauma), as indicated by two (or more) of the following:

      1. Difficulty falling or staying asleep

      2. Irritability or outbursts of anger

      3. Difficulty concentrating

      4. Hypervigilance

      5. Exaggerated startle response

    E. Duration of the disturbance (symptoms in Criteria B, C, and D) is more than one month.

    F. The disturbance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

Diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Only a physician or psychologist can diagnose PTSD.

If you have any the symptoms of PTSD outlined in this article after an accident, and your symptoms persist for more than 1 month, be sure to see a doctor for an evaluation.

Treatment Of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Once it is identified, PTSD can be treated with medications, talk therapy (especially cognitive-behavioral therapy), or both.

PTSD Facts

These are some additional facts about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder following an accident . . .

  • Many symptoms do not manifest until patients attempt to resume daily activities after their accident.

  • The symptoms of head injuries can be quite similar to post-traumatic reactions or, at times, can even mask PTSD symptoms.

  • PTSD can affect anyone at any age.

  • Millions of Americans get PTSD every year (not all from accidents, of course).

  • Women tend to get PTSD more often than men.

  • You don’t have to be physically hurt to get PTSD. You can get it after you see other people, such as a friend or family member, get hurt.

  • The chance of developing PTSD goes up if the trauma was very severe.

  • Adults with PTSD can have other problems as well, including depression, drug and alcohol abuse, or other anxiety problems (for example, panic disorder, social anxiety).

  • Although most people with PTSD will develop symptoms within three months of the traumatic event, some people don’t notice any symptoms until years after it occurred. A major increase in stress, or exposure to a reminder of the trauma, can trigger symptoms months or years later.

  • Some clinicians have identified a variation of PTSD among victims of motor vehicle accidents which they refer to as subsyndromal or partial PTSD. These people have high levels of hyperarousal and re-experiencing symptoms but few or no symptoms of avoidance or emotional numbing. They have a better prognosis for symptom remission at 6 months than those with PTSD.