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Car Accident Victims

Car accident victims often experience post-traumatic stress disorder.


For some victims of car accidents, the ordeal of the accident does not end when their wounds heal. Some vehicle accident victims develop a psychiatric condition called post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. PTSD occurs when a terrifying experience overwhelms a person’s psychological ability to cope.

Many people associate PTSD with large-scale traumas such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks or Hurricane Katrina. However, anyone who experiences a life-threatening trauma can develop PTSD, including accident victims.

Symptoms of PTSD

The chief symptom of PTSD is re-experiencing the trauma over and over again in one’s mind. These terrifying memories are so vivid the sufferer actually feels as if the trauma is being repeated. Thus car accident victims may experience horrifying the flashbacks to the accident.

Another symptom of PTSD is avoidance of situations that remind the victim of the trauma. Some motor vehicle accident victims are afraid to get into another car. Others may avoid places that remind them of the accident such as busy city streets or open highways where cars go very fast.

The third hallmark of PTSD is increased nervousness and anxiety. Car accident victims experiencing PTSD, for instance, might slam on the brakes at the slightest hint that they are close to another car.

Treatment of PTSD

Years ago, it was thought that the best way to deal with trauma was to encourage people to examine the traumatic event and their feelings towards it. Newer research, however, suggests that this only serves to re-traumatize victims of car accidents and other devastating events.

Today, most therapists use a cognitive behavioral approach, educating victims about how trauma affects the mind and body and teaching them more effective ways to cope with stress such as thought stopping (interrupting flashbacks as soon as they start), relaxation, and stress inoculation (learning how to remain relaxed while thinking about the stressor). Medications can also help alleviate some of the more intense anxiety symptoms.

It is not uncommon for car accident victims to develop PTSD, especially if the accident resulted in the deaths of loved ones. But early identification and treatment can help bring PTSD symptoms under control and help those accident victims get on with their lives.

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