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Mental Trauma After a Car Accident

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Most car accident victims and their families focus on their physical injuries after a car accident. Getting immediate treatment for your physical injuries is critical to your health and could mean the difference between life and death. Severe physical injuries also typically require months of rehabilitation, and some victims never make a full recovery.

Brain injuries and coping with a car accident’s physical and financial aftermath often lead to mental trauma. You might not be able to easily identify the signs and symptoms of mental trauma after a car accident, making it a hidden injury that victims and their medical providers often overlook.

After a car accident, your long-term mental health is as important as recovering from your injuries. Failure to address emotional challenges from your accident and injuries can disrupt your life and your family’s life in various ways. Contact your doctor if you feel anxious or depressed, and share this information with your lawyer. Mental health struggles factor into the amount of compensation you could receive for a car accident claim.

Until you meet with an experienced car accident lawyer, this guide provides more information about mental trauma after a car accident, including specific types of injuries, treatment, and how trauma and its symptoms factor into your car accident claim.

PTSD Is the Most Common Emotional Injury After a Car Accident

People often ignore the psychological aspect of being involved in a severe car accident. If they suffer symptoms such as shock, disorientation, and anxiety, they often associate them with other things, such as work struggles, financial issues, and family problems. However, car accident victims face mental trauma related to the accident and their injuries that requires proper treatment, just like physical injuries.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is among the most common psychological injuries from car accidents. PTSD is often associated with abuse, natural disasters, and military veterans, but research shows that motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of PTSD, with about 40 percent of motor vehicle accident survivors developing PTSD. This statistic suggests that mental injuries are far more common after a car accident than many believe.

What Does PTSD Look Like?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a broad diagnosis that doctors use to describe the struggles people face after experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event. The symptoms that someone experiences vary greatly among those diagnosed with PTSD. All of them can create chaos in a car accident victim’s personal and professional life.

PTSD symptoms include:

  • Sudden flashbacks of the car accident that often occur with blackouts or time loss
  • Night terrors and nightmares about the accident
  • Intense distress triggered by reminders of the car accident
  • Irrational fears of non-harmful events or objects
  • Phobia of driving and avoidance of any person, place, or thing that reminds one of the crash
  • Withdrawal from family, friends, and colleagues
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Self-harm, often associated with survivor’s guilt

These direct symptoms lead to additional physical and psychological struggles. For example, flashbacks cause people to completely disengage from their environment. Nightmares and terrors cause insomnia, exhaustion, and other symptoms that make it difficult to function at home and work. Avoidance, withdrawal, and depression sometimes prevent people from engaging in the same activities they did before a car accident. These are only a few examples of what PTSD might look like for a car accident victim.

PTSD and Other Psychological Disorders

It’s common for other mental disorders to develop alongside PTSD after a car accident. Symptoms turn into more severe disorders. For example, fear of driving can develop into a diagnosable phobia. Research shows that among car accident survivors diagnosed with PTSD, about 15 percent suffer from a debilitating phobia of driving and 27 percent develop generalized anxiety disorder due to their traffic accidents. Mental disorders typically do not disappear without intervention.

Child Mental Trauma After a Car Accident

Children have developing brains and are highly impressionable, making them especially vulnerable to psychological injuries from a car accident. For decades, researchers have known that as many as 35 percent of child survivors of car accidents suffer serious mental trauma.

Symptoms of mental trauma in a child might only last a year and sometimes might not even be noticeable until parents identify social issues in school. Children who suffer mental trauma often struggle with school, learning social skills, functioning in family relationships, participating in extracurricular activities, and much more.

Mental Trauma Related to Brain Injuries from a Car Accident

Although PTSD is common with car accidents, it’s purely psychological. Car accident victims can suffer mental trauma from physical injuries to the brain. Car accidents can indirectly and directly cause traumatic brain injuries (TBIs).

The impact of a car crash causes a jolt that moves heads back and forth rapidly. During this motion, the brain can move around inside the skull. This movement can lead to multiple types of TBIs ranging from mild swelling in the brain to more severe hemorrhaging and other injuries. Blunt force trauma to the head during a car crash directly leads to TBIs.

This trauma occurs when a driver or passenger hits their head on the steering wheel, windshield, seat, or some other object in the vehicle during the crash. However, flying objects in the car, pieces of metal from the frame, and other sharp objects can hit or puncture the head and skull, leading to brain damage.

Regardless of how a TBI occurs and its severity, car accident victims sometimes face mental struggles due to their brain damage. The brain affects how people think, feel, and act. A TBI can affect physical functions, thinking abilities, behaviors, and other cognitive functions.

PTSD can develop after a TBI.

Other psychiatric disorders that often develop after a TBI include:

  • Depression. As much as 60 percent of TBI survivors experience major depression following their injury. However, inconsistent research methods and results sometimes show closer to 20 percent. This prevalence means that one out of five TBI survivors suffers depression, at the very least.
  • Mania (Bipolar). Research shows that TBIs lead to secondary mood disorders like mania.
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). A TBI can lead to OCD symptoms, typically soon after an accident but sometimes later. These symptoms often occur with depression.
  • Psychotic Disorders. Although it’s rare, studies have shown that a TBI can cause psychosis and various psychotic disorders like schizophrenia.
  • Personality Changes. TBIs often lead to various personality changes, some of which might be related to one of the above disorders. In any case, apathy, aggression, lack of impulse control, extreme mood swings, and paranoia are some changes TBI victims might experience.

Getting the Treatment You Need for Mental Trauma After a Car Accident

If you or someone you love faces emotional challenges after a car accident, you can claim economic and non-economic aspects of your mental trauma as damages in a lawsuit. However, you must prove your mental injuries, which sometimes pose challenges. You cannot simply claim you are dealing with emotional struggles after a car accident. You must seek treatment with one or more mental health professionals and get your emotional injuries diagnosed and documented.

Your psychologist, psychiatrist, or another mental health professional might recommend one or more of the following treatments:

  • Psychotherapy
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
  • Exposure therapy
  • Cognitive restructuring
  • Psychiatric therapy
  • Medication
  • Occupational therapy

Your doctor will help you develop the best treatment plan for your situation. The sooner you begin treating your mental trauma, the sooner you can move on with your life.

Seeking Compensation for Mental Trauma After a Car Accident

After suffering physical and psychological injuries from a negligent driver or another party, you have the right to seek compensation for damages related to your injuries, hospitalization, treatment, and rehabilitation. You should not have to shoulder the financial burden alone and further add to your mental anguish when someone else harms you.

If you reach a settlement agreement or a court rules in your favor, you could receive compensation for various damages, including: medical treatment costs, current and future medical expenses, current and future lost wages; and non-economic damages for pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of consortium, and others that might apply to your car accident claim.

Examples of damages related to mental trauma from a car accident include:

  • Costs for treatment with a psychiatrist, psychologist, or another mental health professional
  • Transportation costs to and from doctor appointments related to the diagnoses and treatment of psychological injuries
  • Prescriptions your mental health professional might prescribe, such as anti-psychotics, anti-depressants, and mood-stabilizing drugs
  • Costs to treat other issues related to PTSD, such as inpatient, outpatient, or residential treatment for substance abuse
  • Costs of inpatient mental health treatment programs
  • Emotional pain and suffering

Your lawyer will review your case and advise you on which damages apply to your situation.

Fighting the Insurance Company to Pay Claims Involving Mental Trauma

Insurance companies use every tactic possible to deny claims and avoid paying full compensation. It’s more difficult for them to fight physical injuries because lawyers and doctors can point to them on an x-ray or in a photo. The same is not true of mental trauma. To win your car accident claim and receive compensation for injuries, your attorney must prove that the car accident caused your mental struggles.

Causation is the most contested element of negligence in personal injury claims. The hidden nature of psychological injuries allows insurance companies to fight against financial liability aggressively. They will attempt to devalue your claim and argue that some other trauma or stresses in your life led to your emotional struggles, not your car accident injuries.

If the physician treating you for your physical car accident injuries referred you to a mental health professional because of reported or suspected emotional struggles, visit a psychologist. A trained psychologist, potentially in conjunction with a psychiatrist, can evaluate your symptoms, offer a diagnosis, and begin treatment to help you.

Your psychologist and other mental health specialists involved in your treatment will document your visits, changes in symptoms, and progress and help you through your emotional challenges because of mental trauma from a car accident.

This process is not only the best step for your mental health, but continued documentation of your mental health treatment provides valuable evidence that supports your claim. Medical documentation serves as evidence to prove causation that provides leverage with tricky insurance companies and the court, if necessary. Ultimately, it creates the link between the car accident and your PTSD or other trauma responses to the accident.

Contact an Experienced Car Accident Lawyer ASAP!

Experienced car accident lawyers understand the defense strategies and questionable tactics insurance companies use to avoid financial payouts. They advocate for clients and understand how mental trauma relates to car accidents, whether it manifests as PTSD or another type of emotional injury. Skilled legal teams uncover the facts of a claim and diligently pursue the maximum compensation for a client’s physical and psychological car accident injuries.

Depression, anxiety, and other mental health struggles cause people to miss work, withdraw from their daily lives, and diminish their ability to function. Car accident victims should not have to absorb the financial burden on top of their mental anguish.

An experienced car accident lawyer can handle the bothersome details of a car accident claim and develop the strongest strategy to seek compensation for damages while you focus on your treatment and healing. You do not have to go through your emotional challenges alone. Contact an experienced car accident attorney today.

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