It may be the sound – the deafening, horrifying crash. Or it could be the feeling of helplessness as you see an out-of-control vehicle careening toward yours and being unable to get out of its way. Perhaps it is the terror that assaults you during the seconds before you realize that your children in the back seat are uninjured. Auto accidents can cause psychological wounds that can be as painful as physical injuries. Sometimes they can impair a victim’s ability to drive, or even ride in a car for a period of time. Often they interrupt sleep with nightmares. Some people cannot stop ruminating over what happened or what could have happened – the frightening images replay over and over in their heads. It is common for people who have been involved in an automobile collision to experience similar feelings, especially in the days immediately following the event. However, if the psychological symptoms linger for weeks or months, or they interfere with the person’s regular habits, it may be a case of post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD).
Most of us have heard of PTSD with regard to war veterans or abuse survivors. Car accident victims may downplay the emotional effects thinking that their event was not “traumatic enough” to cause PTSD. But that is not the case. PTSD following an automobile collision may manifest itself through the following: