women experiencing PTSD after a car accident

An underreported and underappreciated consequence of being in a car accident is the effect it has on your mental and emotional well-being. There is a stigma in the US that if you are experiencing mental problems, then you should just toughen up and deal with it. Husbands, boyfriends, and even many doctors simply do not appreciate the significance of PTSD after a car accident. As a result, women are left to suffer in silence.

At St. Petersburg Personal Injury Attorneys McQuaid & Douglas, we specialize in car accident claims involving serious injuries to women. Our accident cases all have a physical injury to our female clients. Physical injuries are the standard way to value a car accident claim. But, we have found over the years that many of our female clients also experience ongoing mental health issues long after the physical injury has healed. Experiencing PTSD after a car accident is normal. There is nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. It does not reflect how tough you are and can happen to anyone. But, unfortunately, there is a hesitancy for our clients to report these problems and thus they do not get the help that they need. This article is part of our ongoing series devoted to issues for women after a personal injury accident. I am hopeful that it will help lift the curtain on these hidden mental health problems and encourage women to be more proactive about getting treatment.

What is PTSD?

According to a study by the National Institute of Mental Health, 39.2% of people involved in a car accident develop PTSD. PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, occurs when people have witnessed or experienced a traumatic event and continue to experience symptoms for more than a month. The symptoms make it difficult to live one’s life normally. While car accidents are a cause and the focus of this article, PTSD can also be caused by physical or asexual assault, natural disaster, or any traumatic event. The medical profession and the news has focused on military service veterans, but has overlooked many other classes of victims.

Women are more at risk than men to develop PTSD according to the American Psychological Association. The research indicates that women are twice as likely to develop PTSD, they experience the symptoms for a longer time, and are more sensitive to being reminded of the trauma.

What Are the Symptoms of PTSD?

PTSD causes the following symptoms:

  • Reliving the event through nightmares or flashbacks. There may be physical effects accompanying this such as racing heart or sweating.
  • Avoiding situations that remind you of the accident. For example, you may avoid being in a car or driving near the area of the crash.
  • Negative thoughts and feelings. You may have more negative thoughts about yourself, may feel empty or numb. You may even have trouble enjoying activities that you used to do prior to the accident.
  • Feeling jittery, nervous or tense. These feelings may affect sleep, concentration or your ability to perform your daily activities.

How Are the Symptoms of PTSD Different for Women?

Women experience the symptoms of PTSD differently than men. Women with PTSD are more likely to be easily startled, have more trouble feeling emotions, trouble with feeling numb, will avoid reminders of the trauma, and are more likely to feel depressed or anxious.

Women carry PTSD symptoms longer than men. It is estimated that women will experience these symptoms four times longer. Fortunately, women are less likely to have problems turning to drugs or alcohol to cope than men are. But, both men and women both are more likely to develop physical health problems after experiencing PTSD.

How Is PTSD Diagnosed After a Car Accident?

In order to be properly diagnosed with PTSD, you should consult with a specialist such as a psychologist, psychiatrist or certified mental health professional.

Your family doctor, OBGYN, and/or doctor treating your accident injuries are not considered appropriate treatment providers of PTSD. You should not rely on them to write you prescriptions and the like. However, if they believe that you are suffering from PTSD, they should note it in your file and then refer you to the appropriate provider.

What Are the Treatment Options for PTSD After a Car Accident?

There are multiple treatments for PTSD including:

  • Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) is a talk therapy that was developed specifically to treat PTSD. It helps one pay attention to and change any upsetting thoughts.
  • Prolonged Exposure Therapy is a talk therapy where you discuss the traumatic event and remember it repeatedly over time. While discussing the trauma, the therapist guides the patient. The goal is that by confronting the trauma through repetition, the patient will become less sensitive to the memory.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is another therapy when a patient is asked to talk about the trauma while focused on a specific item. This item can be the therapist’s hand or perhaps a specific sound, like a beep.
  • Medication Management to treat PTSD includes the use of antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications.

The length of the treatment depends on the severity of the symptoms. Treatment can last weeks, months, or even longer depending on how the patient responds.

Contact a Car Accident Attorney

As mentioned in the above, the treatment of PTSD for women after car accidents is an evolving area. It is a subjective injury that insurance companies and medical providers are slow to recognize. In order to recover compensation from the injury claim, you must be diagnosed and actually receive some type of treatment. I have personally run into difficulty in the past in getting medical specialists to provide services unless the person has health insurance and pays the copay. Many accident victims simply are not willing to do that since they are already in a fragile position. However, we have recently discovered therapists who will provide treatment on a letter of protection (LOP), where the bills will be paid out of the proceeds of the car accident claim. This has given my clients an opportunity to get help that they never had before.

My hope is that women recognize the severity of the trauma and PTSD symptoms and reach out for help. There are resources available to help if we are made aware. While I hope that you do not experience PTSD after a car accident, if you believe you are experiencing the above symptoms and wish to discuss a claim, please contact me for a free consultation.