Can You Get PTSD From a Car Accident?

When you think of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the first thing you may think of is war veterans. However, PTSD can affect anyone who has experienced a traumatic event, including car accidents. Car accidents can be extremely traumatic events, and can have a long-lasting impact on the people involved. Keep reading to learn about the symptoms of PTSD, how and why it can develop after a car accident, and what can be done to manage it.

Understanding PTSD


PTSD is a mental health condition that can develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. Traumatic events can include assault, abuse, serious health issues, losing a loved one, childbirth, and more. Not everyone who experiences trauma will develop PTSD, but it is certainly a possibility.

Symptoms of PTSD

PTSD can manifest itself in different ways for different people. Some common symptoms include:

  • Flashbacks or intrusive memories
  • Nightmares or insomnia
  • Avoidance of places, people, or things that remind them of the trauma
  • Hyperarousal or feeling on edge
  • Guilt or shame
  • Negative thoughts or feelings
  • Panic attacks

These symptoms can interfere with a person’s daily life and can cause significant distress. PTSD can disrupt your work life, personal life, and ability to sleep.

How Can Car Accidents Cause PTSD?


Car accidents can be extremely traumatic events. It is not uncommon for individuals involved in a car accident to experience PTSD, according to car accident lawyers Mickelsen Dalton. The severity of the accident does not necessarily correlate with the severity of PTSD. In fact, it is possible for someone who was in a minor car accident to develop PTSD while someone who was in a more severe accident may not experience it.

Let’s take a look at why car accidents can cause PTSD.

Feeling Helpless

A loss of control is one of the common causes of PTSD. Car accidents usually happen very suddenly with little to no warning, which leaves the driver and passengers feeling extremely caught off guard. Normally drivers have a feeling of control while operating a vehicle, and this control is taken away instantly in a crash.

Serious Injury, Death, & Fear

Whether or not anyone is injured or killed in the crash, the fear of these things happening can be enough to cause PTSD. Fear of death is a very primal feeling in humans, and this will only be exacerbated if someone dies in the crash. It should come as no surprise that having a near-death experience or watching another person die can be traumatic. Most people are not exposed to this type of situation on a regular basis, and for many people a serious car accident can be the most extreme event of their life.

If you become seriously injured or witness another serious injury, it is more likely that PTSD will develop. For example, sustaining a traumatic brain injury or paralysis is a life changing event, and can cause fear and distress when thinking about how it will affect your life moving forward.

Also in some cases a person may try to save another person’s life following an accident, and if they fail, it can cause extreme survivor’s guilt.

Other Factors That Increase the Risk of PTSD

There are several factors that can increase the risk of developing PTSD after a car accident. If you have pre-existing mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression, an accident can greatly exacerbate them or create new mental health conditions. A lack of social support can also contribute to a PTSD diagnosis. Survivors want to feel supported and taken care of after such a traumatic experience, and having no one to talk to or having your feelings dismissed can cause distress. If a serious injury is developed, a lack of physical or emotional support while healing can be isolating and traumatizing.

Development of PTSD After a Car Accident

Development of PTSD After a Car Accident

PTSD can develop immediately after a car accident or it may take some time to appear. It may surprise you to learn that in some cases, it takes months or even years for PTSD symptoms to manifest. This is because it can take that amount of time to fully process a traumatic event. It is important to seek help if you are experiencing any symptoms of PTSD after a car accident, even if they do not appear immediately. Starting the healing process as early as possible can help mitigate future symptoms that may appear.

Someone who develops PTSD after a car accident may understandably be afraid to drive, which can of course affect many aspects of their life such as getting to work. This combined with the mental distress of having PTSD are two reasons why seeking help is extremely important.

Managing PTSD After a Car Accident

If you are experiencing symptoms of PTSD after a car accident, it is crucial to seek help from a mental health professional. There are several treatments available for PTSD, including therapy and medication.


Therapy can help individuals with PTSD learn coping skills to manage their symptoms. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy that has been shown to be effective in treating PTSD. CBT can help individuals identify and change negative thoughts and behaviors related to the trauma.


Medication may be prescribed to help manage PTSD symptoms, such as anxiety and depression. Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications such as SSRIs are common medications that are prescribed for PTSD. However, it is important to note that medication alone cannot normally treat PTSD. It’s important to also seek therapy in conjunction with medication.


Self-care is also an important aspect of managing PTSD. It is important to prioritize self-care activities, such as exercise, healthy eating, and getting enough rest. These types of things can help reestablish a normal routine and help distract from negative thoughts. Support from family and friends can also be helpful in managing symptoms. If your loved one developed PTSD after an accident, do not be dismissive. It’s important to validate their feelings and make sure they know it’s normal and okay to feel this way.

Final Thoughts

Unfortunately PTSD has been known to develop after a car accident, even if the accident was minor. It is important to seek help if you are experiencing any symptoms of PTSD. Although there is no way to prevent PTSD, there are several treatments available for it including therapy, medication, and self-care. With the right treatment and support, it is possible to manage PTSD symptoms and live a fulfilling life.

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