Thought Leader Series: The Long-Lasting Psychological Impact of Accidents

When you hear the phrase “post-traumatic stress disorder” you probably think of soldiers returning home from war-torn nations. Alternatively, you might think of people who have suffered in a terrorist incident or a massive natural disaster of some kind. You probably don’t think of a minor car accident injury when you hear the words “post-traumatic stress disorder”.

However, increasing amounts of research from around the world are showing that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a real and present danger arising from motor vehicle accidents, amongst other forms of personal injury.

One study, from South Africa, found that a quarter of people involved in auto accidents were suffering from undiagnosed PTSD a year and a half after the crash took place. Another research study from Australia found that in children PTSD was commonplace several months after an accident. Meanwhile, a study from Oxford, England, found that PTSD lingered in one in ten patients for a full year after their auto accident. You do not need to search the medical journals for very long before you find similar research papers all pointing to the fact that PTSD is a real effect of accidents and that psychiatric issues can remain with individuals for a year or more after the initial injuries are dealt with.

Life events make auto accidents more likely
Added to these findings, a significant study from France, involving almost 14,000 people, demonstrated that auto accidents are more frequent when people have other psychological incidents in their lives. For instance, when people are feeling depressed after a child has left home they are more likely to be involved in an auto accident. Similarly, people undergoing the stress of a divorce are at an increased risk of an auto accident. The French researchers found that when we are psychologically distressed in some way, our chances of having an accident are increased.

This is a real issue for anyone who does have an accident injury. Not only might they already be having to cope with psychological issues arising from personal matters, but they are also likely to have the additional burden of PTSD, compounding their psychiatric issues.

Some people do not even link their psychological problems, a year or so after an accident, with their injury. They get treatment for their accident injury immediately after the incident and then when they suffer psychological problems a year or more later they probably do not connect the two things. Indeed, some people do not even get medical attention after an auto accident because they are not sure they need to, or fear excessive costs. However, it is clear that early medical advice is necessary. The doctors involved with the Oxford, England, research said that early advice can help reduce emotional issues following accidents.

You might think that you have escaped an auto accident with barely a scratch, and you might want to avoid going for a hospital check. The medical research suggests, though, that doing so can potentially help with subsequent psychological issues. Moreover, they appear almost certain to arise, sometimes leading to PTSD. It is clear that the sooner you get medical attention, the better for your life a year or two after the accident.

Of course, if you have been involved in an accident and suffered psychological consequences as a result, you can contact us for advice on what your options might be.