Can You Get PTSD from a Car Accident?

April 20, 2024 – Paul Hammack

South Carolina Personal Injury Lawyers | Hammack Law Firm | Call 864-326-3333

Yes, you can get PTSD from a car accident. People who experience motor vehicle accidents are at a higher risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Despite widespread perception, PTSD does not only affect war veterans. In fact, a past study says traffic accidents have been the leading cause of PTSD in the United States since the Vietnam War. Understanding the disorder is key to helping people with it cope and heal.

What Is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder is an anxiety disorder that typically affects people who experience a traumatic event. This event can involve death, the threat of death, serious injury, or a threat to the safety of oneself or others. Recurring experiences or single-incident traumatic events, such as a car crash or a gunshot, can trigger the mental health disorder.

What Are the Symptoms of PTSD?

A mental health professional can diagnose post-traumatic stress disorder after reviewing a person’s symptoms and when the person experiences those symptoms. PTSD symptoms specific to car accidents include the following:

Reliving the Car Accident

People with PTSD often relive the event in their heads. This psychological re-experiencing can take different forms such as:

  • Recurrent intrusive thoughts about the accident
  • Distressing dreams of the event
  • Feeling or acting as if the accident was recurring
  • Reliving the accident through illusions, hallucinations, or flashbacks
  • Psychological distress when exposed to things that remind you of the accident (e.g., fear, worry, etc.)
  • A physical reaction to things reminders of the event (e.g., elevated body temperature, sweating, headache, etc.)

Avoiding Accident-Related Thoughts and Situations

Often people with PTSD try to avoid anything associated with their traumatic event. For people injured in car accidents, this usually means a reluctance or refusal to drive. They may also avoid:

  • Thoughts, feelings, and conversations about their car accident
  • People, places, and activities that cause them to recall the incident


PTSD victims may also experience a sense of feeling emotionally or mentally numb to things they otherwise would respond to. Numbing can manifest as:

  • The inability to remember important details of an accident
  • Reduced interest or participation in activities
  • Feeling detached from others
  • Reduced or absence of emotions
  • Feeling like you no longer have a future

Increased Arousal

Arousal due to post-traumatic stress disorder is when you are physically on high alert. This could mean:

  • Trouble falling or staying asleep
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Exaggerated startle

How Long Does PTSD Last?

To be classified as PTSD, your symptoms must last for more than a month. Signs of PTSD usually begin within three months, but it’s also possible they may not begin until years after your accident. The duration of the disorder depends on the person. Some people recover in six months. For others, it can last several years or the rest of your life. Studies show that chances of recovery improve the sooner you receive treatment.

Coping with PTSD After Your Car Accident

Researchers from around the world are studying PTSD treatments. While avoidance of driving and shutting yourself off may seem like the safe way to cope, these behaviors are more harmful than good. Many victims of motor vehicle accidents do not seek help for years, which makes it harder to treat. However, evidence shows that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective treatment.

This form of psychological treatment focuses on helping you change your thinking patterns and unhelpful behaviors. It also teaches you better ways to cope with the aftermath of your car accident or another traumatic event. Treatment includes educating patients about the disorder, relaxation training, learning to recognize distorted thinking, and gaining confidence in your abilities.

Psychotherapy Can Help PTSD Victims

Psychotherapy (talk therapy) is also helpful in treating PTSD. Motor vehicle accident victims might discuss the accident and their thoughts and feelings as they process the traumatic experience. Health care professionals may prescribe PTSD victims medication to reduce their anxiety, nightmares, flashbacks, bad memories, hallucinations, disinterest and numbing, or irritability.

Car accidents can leave victims with other issues to cope with. People with PTSD from a car accident may also experience chronic pain and depression. They may also turn to substance use or abuse to deal with the aftermath of a crash.

Hammack Law Firm Can Help You Rebuild Your Life

If you have been diagnosed with PTSD or have experienced PTSD symptoms after a car accident, our personal injury lawyer can help. PTSD, along with other psychological and emotional disorders, is a form of pain and suffering that you could be compensated for.

Hammack Law Firm offers our clients compassionate, responsive legal care. Our attorney will review your options with you during a free consultation. They may be able to help you recover accident-related financial losses, such as your medical bills, lost income, and property damage after a South Carolina car accident. Call Hammack Law Firm today at (864) 326-3333(864) 326-3333 to get started.

Questions or Schedule An Appointment? Call Us:

(864) 326-3333

Related Blog Posts

Skip to content