For Ryan, it was just another normal day driving to the office. Luckily, traffic wasn’t too bad. He zoomed down Main Street heading for his office building. As he approached the last intersection, he looked up at the light making sure it was green and that the intersection was clear. As he entered the intersection, suddenly, CRASH! Another car plowed into the intersection, slamming into Ryan’s car. The car that hit him was approaching so fast that he hadn’t seen it when he surveyed the intersection. The loud bang of metal breaking metal, airbags deploying, and shattering glass all reverberated in Ryan’s ears.
Although the accident happened in an instant, the experienced seemed to play out in slow motion for Ryan. He jerked forward against his seatbelt and felt the solid blast as the airbags struck his body and face. His car spun sideways, tires screeching under the blast from the opposing car. A lightning strike of pain in his neck and back were immediate. When everything finally stopped, everything went quiet except a faint ringing in his ears.
Ryan never lost consciousness. He sat still, not daring to move, simply processing what just happened, in a state of shock, somewhat unbelieving. His hands still gripping the steering wheel, his breath was short and nervous. Although his initial thoughts following the accident were slow and hard to formulate, when he realized he was just involved in an accident, it was as though a flood of emotions spilled over him. Ryan felt anger toward the person that just hit him, but he simultaneously felt guilty. Although he did check the intersection before driving through, he felt as though he should have done something more to avoid the accident.
Millions of people undergo a similar experience to Ryan every year. While some details may differ slightly, many feelings might be the same. For instance, if you have been involved in an accident, you have likely been awash with emotions. These emotions might include shock, denial, anger, guilt, self-blame, worry, fear, and many, many others. Any of these feelings can be challenging to understand.
Unfortunately, sometimes taking care of your mental health following an accident can be put on the back burner while you are dealing with other problems associated with your accident like damage to your vehicle or physical injuries. For some victims, their mental health is cast aside altogether. However, car accidents are a common cause of mental and emotional distress. In fact, many studies have shown that even small car accidents can result in long-term anxiety, fears, and phobias of riding in a car.
One symptom after a car crash, post-traumatic stress disorder or (PTSD), can have significant effects on a person’s life following an accident. Researchers at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs have cited motor vehicle accidents as a common cause of traumatic stress. In fact, in one study, accidents were shown to be the traumatic event most frequently experienced by 25 percent of males and 13 percent of females.
Many victims of car accidents are undergoing immense stress and anxiety following their accident but don’t want to appear faint-hearted, especially if the accident was minor. However, one study has demonstrated that how severe the accident was is no indication of how serious the PTSD might be. Dr. Richard Mayou, one of the study’s directors, told Webmd.com, “[i]n the past, there has been an assumption that people who have more severe injuries are more likely to get psychiatric complications, but that is not so.” For many people, this could mean that suffering psychological stress does not mean that you are not mentally strong, but rather are suffering from a serious side-effect of the accident similar to any physical injury you may have experienced like a broken arm or leg.
Neglecting your mental health following a car accident can cause your psychological condition to worsen and can intensify symptoms of post-traumatic stress. In an article published in the American Family Physician, researchers assert that early identification of such psychological trauma is “critical to allow for intervention and prevent greater impairment and restriction.” This makes properly dealing with emotional stress after an accident crucial to your recovery.
If you are struggling emotionally after your accident, taking necessary steps to improve your mental health is vital. The website Familydoctor.org makes a few recommendations:
- Speak with close friends and family about your accident. The act of speaking about your experience can be cathartic. It can help in releasing some of the emotion that you might be feeling. Sometimes we might feel hesitant about talking about the experience because it may cause many of the pent up feelings of trauma and worry to surface. However, talking through it can be a helpful release.
- Speak with your doctor. Your doctor can refer you to a specialized health care professional if necessary. A therapist can help you work through the stress of your car accident. They are specifically trained to do so.
- Get things back to normal. Returning to a normal routine can help facilitate emotional healing.
- Be active. Physical exercise has been proven to reduce stress. If your physical injuries allow, good exercise can help your body through the healing process.
- Consider hiring a personal injury attorney. A car accident lawyer can take care of many of the problems associated with your accident, thereby, reducing stress. They can help recover lost wages, defer medical bills, get a rental car, etc. All of these specifics details can be a headache after your accident and can impede your ability to heal properly.
Car accidents, like the one experienced by Ryan, are extremely serious. They can greatly alter our lives and the lives of those we love. Just as a serious physical injury following an accident should not be neglected, a serious emotional or mental struggle following an accident should be treated if necessary. The stress and burdens following a car crash should not be treated lightly.