The Emotional and Mental Impact of a Car Accident

Being involved in a car accident, even a minor one, as a driver or passenger is a traumatic and stressful event. One minute you are going about your business and the next you are at the centre of a drama. The second before the crash, you might know it’s going to happen and you can’t do anything about it. Then there’s the moment of impact which seems to happen in slow motion. In the aftermath, there may be sirens, flashing lights and lots of people. In an instant, your day or your week or maybe even your life has changed.

Eventually, it will be decided who is to blame, the insurance dealt with, the car will be repaired or replaced and the physical injuries treated. However, the emotional injuries can last much longer.

Emotional After Effects

Immediately after the accident, if you are injured the emergency teams will take care of you. But, even if you aren’t hurt, the first sign of emotional distress which affects many people is shock. Trembling, feelings of nausea and dizziness, breathing rapidly, sweating or having cold, clammy skin are all symptoms.

Some accident victims go into “autopilot” at the scene, doing all the right things like taking the details of the other parties involved, taking photos of the scene and making a statement to the police. When things have calmed down, they can suffer from delayed shock, which can happen minutes or hours after the event and last for days, or even longer in some cases.

The shock can turn into anxiety with which it is common to replay the accident over and over in your mind. You could be thinking how it could have been avoided, what you could have done differently. You might blame yourself, even if it wasn’t your fault. You can experience anger at the other parties involved. These signs of anxiety are normal after an accident and will usually fade after a relatively short period of time.

For some people, the emotional effects are long-term and can affect many aspects of their lives, and those of their families. They find it hard to sleep and often feel irritable and upset which they take out on those closest to them. Lethargy and difficulty concentrating can create problems at work and home. Antisocial feelings and a reluctance to talk to anyone makes them become withdrawn.

Dealing with Anxiety

When you are experiencing anxiety, it is important to talk to somebody, even though it might be difficult. Talking to a family member, close friend or a professional counsellor about the incident and how you feel about it helps the recovery process.

Try and get back to some kind of normality in your daily life. Eating properly and plenty of exercise will help to ease the anxiety. Avoid stimulants such as alcohol, drugs, and caffeine as, although they may give you a brief lift, they can actually intensify the negative feelings.

Your life should begin to return to normal as the anxious feelings subside and there should be no long-lasting effects. Unfortunately, that is not the case for everyone.

If the Anxiety Symptoms Persist

If, after around three months, the symptoms of your anxiety continue, or indeed worsen, you might be suffering from a more serious mental condition such as post-traumatic stress disorder (ptsd). While PTSD is mostly associated with combat troops returning from battle, it can be triggered by any extremely traumatic event, and certainly by a serious car accident.

In addition to the symptoms of anxiety, PTSD can cause you to experience intense, recurrent memories of the crash while awake, possibly causing blackouts. You may have horrifying nightmares while sleeping.

You might be afraid to drive a car or be a passenger or, in extreme cases, even be near a car or traffic. Passing the site of the accident or seeing anything that reminds you of it, like the signs of physical injuries you suffered, can cause you extreme emotional distress. These symptoms can prevent you from going to work or taking the kids to school and carrying on your normal daily life.

The intense feelings of anxiety can result in you becoming severely depressed and withdrawing from your friends and family. In severe cases, victims can have suicidal thoughts.

Treating PTSD

When you have the symptoms of long-term anxiety or PTSD you need to talk to your doctor. They will often decide that medication will help to ease the symptoms of the condition. They can also refer you to a therapist or psychologist who will help you to deal with the causes of your anxiety.

Alongside the professional help, you should seek the help and support of your family and friends. The more you can talk about your feelings the more likely you are to be coming to terms with the trauma you have suffered.

Most important is to give yourself time to recover, it doesn’t happen overnight. Gradually, by taking advantage of the help that is available and coming to the realisation that you want your life back, the symptoms should subside.

Getting back into the driving seat of a car can be a big hurdle. When you eventually do, you might be far more cautious and apprehensive than before but, after a time, it will become a normal part of your life again.

Compensation for Emotional Distress

In the case that you have suffered physical or emotional injuries in a car accident that was the fault of another party, you might be able to claim car accident compensation.

Claiming for physical injury is fairly straightforward as there are visible signs. Emotional injuries are a lot more complicated to quantify, but the long-term effects can be even more devastating on your life. You should be compensated for the pain and suffering you have incurred.

For the best chance of a successful claim, you need to keep records of your daily emotional difficulties, medical costs, transport expenses, loss of earnings through time off work and any other out of pocket expenses.


Photo by Gellinger on Pixabay.