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Could You Have PTSD from Being in a Car Accident?

If you have been in a car accident, in addition to the physical injuries that you sustain, you may have emotional trauma as well.

A few years ago, I was in a car accident on my way to work that made me afraid to drive for almost two years. I still don't enjoy driving around town the way that I did before the accident.

According to NST Attorneys at Law,

Physical injuries are often the focus of recovery efforts in the aftermath of car accidents, while the mental impact is largely ignored. PTSD is commonly associated with military combat veterans. Most people aren’t aware that the emotional trauma from car accidents can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder. In fact, car accidents are the leading cause of PTSD in the general population.
This debilitating mental injury often goes untreated because many car accident victims are unaware that they have post-traumatic stress disorder. One study showed that nearly half of all car accident victims experience PTSD. In the United States, 4.4 million people sustain injuries in car accidents serious enough to warrant hospitalization. This means as many as two million Americans experience PTSD from car accidents.

If you have been in a car accident, and you are experiencing any kind of fears or flashbacks, you may have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from the accident.

Here is an example of what it feels like to have PTSD resulting from a bad car accident: according to Journey of Smiley,

Towards the end of 2020, I had a terrible accident when a van hit me as I was crossing the road. I ended up in hospital with three fractured vertebrae. It was a life-changing event for me. The event has changed my outlook on life, and subsequentially my priorities, whilst also throwing up many challenges. A girl who travelled the world and moved countries several times during her life suddenly felt afraid to leave the safety of the hospital room. However, despite all the scars the trauma has left her with, she has found her silver lining amidst the clouds.

Typically in our society PTSD is associated with veterans coming back from war, but in reality anyone can experience PTSD if they have gone through a traumatic, life-changing event.

A car accident can be life changing, especially if you or another person are injured, and it can make you afraid to get back on the road. This can prove difficult if you have to drive often.

PTSD Symptoms

The diagnostic criteria for PTSD in the United States can be found in the DSM-5. According to The Mayo Clinic,

PTSD symptoms are generally grouped into four types: intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in thinking and mood, and changes in physical and emotional reactions. Symptoms can vary over time or vary from person to person.
Intrusive memories
Symptoms of intrusive memories may include:
Recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event
Reliving the traumatic event as if it were happening again (flashbacks)
Upsetting dreams or nightmares about the traumatic event
Severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds you of the traumatic event
Symptoms of avoidance may include:
Trying to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event
Avoiding places, activities or people that remind you of the traumatic event
Negative changes in thinking and mood
Symptoms of negative changes in thinking and mood may include:
Negative thoughts about yourself, other people or the world
Hopelessness about the future
Memory problems, including not remembering important aspects of the traumatic event
Difficulty maintaining close relationships
Feeling detached from family and friends
Lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed
Difficulty experiencing positive emotions
Feeling emotionally numb
Changes in physical and emotional reactions
Symptoms of changes in physical and emotional reactions (also called arousal symptoms) may include:
Being easily startled or frightened
Always being on guard for danger
Self-destructive behavior, such as drinking too much or driving too fast
Trouble sleeping
Trouble concentrating
Irritability, angry outbursts or aggressive behavior
Overwhelming guilt or shame
For children 6 years old and younger, signs and symptoms may also include:
Re-enacting the traumatic event or aspects of the traumatic event through play
Frightening dreams that may or may not include aspects of the traumatic event

All of these feelings and thoughts are understandable after what you have experienced! PTSD is your body and brain's way of responding to a dangerous situation. It can put you on hyper-alert in the future for danger, and make you worried about dangers everywhere.

Be Gentle With Yourself

As you are trying to heal and get your life back to normal, be sure to take time to be gentle with yourself. You have been through a lot, and you can't expect to bounce back immediately. It will take time.

Take it slow with your emotional recovery, just as with recovery from any physical injuries. Trying to recover or get back to normal too quickly can actually cause setbacks in your progress at times.

It is possible to live a full and 'normal' life with PTSD, there are many of us who have been there before you.

Just remember, healing takes time. You will have bad days too. And when you have those bad days, being gentle, kind and compassionate with yourself will help to ease you along the way.


There are many resources available to help you if you think that you might have PTSD due to being in a car accident.

If you are being seen by a medical provider about other injuries, you can speak to them about a referral to a mental health professional as well, so that you can be evaluated for PTSD.

If you aren't being seen by a medical provider, here are some tips for Finding a Therapist.

If you are experiencing Panic Attacks as a result of PTSD, you can check out my e-book the Trauma Survivor's Guide to Coping With Panic Attacks. (If you are low income or cannot afford the book price, send me an email, and I will get you a code for a free book.) The book coping strategies for dealing with panic attacks that are associated with PTSD.

For additional tips on how to get back on the road after an accident, or how to get compensation for your hardships, NST Attorneys at Law has some helpful resources available.

Journey of Smiley is a great place for additional emotional support and to connect with other PTSD Survivors.

For more resources you can check out the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

Picture of a doctor.  Text that reads, "Could you have PTSD from being in a car accident?"
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