Nearly everyone understands that the trauma of a car accident often leaves crash victims with very serious injuries; but sometimes doctors are so involved with the immediate physical concerns that they overlook other injuries that may be equally devastating to the accident victim—psychological injuries.
Estimates of the prevalence of psychological and emotional injuries vary. One study found that approximately 30 percent of car accident victims suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the most common psychological injury. Other common psychological problems associated with motor vehicle accidents include acute anxiety disorder, experience by around 13 percent of victims; major depression, found in more than 14 percent of victims, and driving phobias, in approximately 15 percent of those involved in car accidents.
Risk Factors for Psychological Disturbances
These factors increase the likelihood that an accident victim will suffer psychological damage as a result of the trauma:
- The accident was severe.
- Others involved in the accident died or suffered catastrophic injuries.
- The accident was perceived as life-threatening.
- The victim experienced flashbacks or intrusive memories following the accident.
- The victim avoided driving or traveling in cars after the accident.
- The victim has a history of traumatic experiences.
- The victim has a history of psychiatric disorder.
The Importance of Early Psychological Assessment
In spite of the prevalence of psychological injuries associated with car accidents, psychological assessment is not usually a routine part of post-accident treatment, as it should be. Many symptoms do not become apparent immediately, but when they do arise, early treatment can mitigate their severity. A national study found that nearly 40 percent of those who were not treated for post traumatic stress disorder resulting from either a car accident or other cause within six years after the trauma continued to suffer from PTSD as long as 10 years after the initial trauma.
An experienced car accident attorney knows the importance of documenting both physical and psychological damage when assessing the full extent of losses incurred in a serious car accident.
Common Signs of Psychological Injury
A person who has been in a serious car accident and is experiencing any of these symptoms should discuss them with a physician and request a referral for psychological assessment:
- Reliving the accident; experiencing flashbacks or intrusive, disturbing memories of the event
- Avoiding reminders of the accident
- Feelings of anxiety and emotional arousal
- Problems falling or staying asleep
- Feelings of panic or severe distress when reminded of the trauma
- Extreme physical reactions to reminders of the event, such as pounding heart, rapid breathing, nausea, muscle tension, and/or sweating
- Feeling numb or emotionally detached
- Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
- Hopelessness about the future
- Irritability, excessive anger, aggressiveness
- Trouble concentrating
- Feeling jumpy and easily startled
Additional Symptoms to Watch Out for in Children and Adolescents Include:
- Clinginess or separation anxiety
- Loss previously learned skills, such as toilet training
- New phobias and anxieties that are not obviously related to the accident
- Acting out the accident through play, stories, or drawings
- Aches and pains with no apparent cause