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June is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Month.  Most people don’t associate PTSD with vehicle collisions, but it is something that I see all the time. Todd Buckley, PhD, on the website U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs, says that researchers are looking more closely at motor vehicle accidents (MVAs) as a common cause of traumatic stress. In one large study, accidents were shown to be the traumatic event most frequently experienced by males (25%) and the second most frequent traumatic event experienced by females (13%) in the United States. Over 100 billion dollars are spent every year to take care of the damage caused by auto accidents. Survivors of MVAs often also experience emotional distress as a result of such accidents. Mental health difficulties such as posttraumatic stress, depression, and anxiety are problems survivors of severe MVAs may exhibit.

How many people experience serious motor vehicle accidents?

One unfortunate consequence of the high volume of commuter and personal travel in the US is the number of accidents that result in personal injury and fatalities. In any given year, approximately 1% of the US population will be injured in motor vehicle accidents. Thus, MVAs account for over three million injuries annually and are one of the most common traumas individuals experience.

How many people develop MVA-related PTSD and other psychological reactions?

Studies of the general population have found that approximately 9% of MVA survivors develop PTSD. Rates are significantly higher in samples of MVA survivors who seek mental-health treatment. Studies show that between 14% and 100% of MVA survivors who seek mental-health treatment have PTSD, with an average of 60% across studies. In addition, between 3% and 53% of MVA survivors who seek treatment and have PTSD also have a mood disorder such as Major Depression. Finally, in one large study of MVA survivors who sought treatment, 27% had an anxiety disorder in addition to their PTSD, and 15% reported a phobia of driving.

When do you seek help?

You should seek medical advice if your symptoms:

Are worrying you.

Are preventing you from doing your normal activities.

Have lasted longer than three months after the accident.

Are causing your friends and/or relatives to be worried about you.

If your symptoms don’t ease after 3 months, or if your symptoms are severe enough to stop you living your normal life, then you have may an anxiety disorder, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

I hope this will help those of you out there who are suffering after a collision.  Please remember that we are always available to listen to you should you feel the need.

 

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Chances are that after an accident your first priority was to recover from the injuries your body sustained. Many of my clients struggle mentally in the wake of a crash. If this happens to you, it’s important to get help.

It might have been a crash where you were the driver, a passenger, a pedestrian or even just an observer.

Lynda Matthews, the Head of the Rehabilitation Counselling Unit at the University of Sydney, says that while many people will recover totally, even from severe road crashes, up to 30 per cent of people will have to deal with a negative psychological response.

“It’s not so much the severity of the crash or the severity of any resulting injury that counts – it’s how someone perceives it,” Dr. Matthews says.  “If you perceive the crash as life-threatening, or if someone is killed in the accident, then that can influence your response.”

The good news is that most people will recover from the anxiety which is a natural reaction to a stressful incident. Some people will have no symptoms of anxiety at all, others will have a few, while others will run the full gamut.

Common symptoms of anxiety include worrying, being very active, feeling irritable, unable to relax or sleep properly, having no energy, finding it difficult to concentrate, feeling upset, angry, confused, tired, helpless or ‘out-of-control’.

Anxiety can make a person feel unsociable and you may have unwanted thoughts or experience problems with personal relationships.

Dr. Matthews says that most people recovering from a crash generally focus first on physical recovery – treatment in hospital, visiting physiotherapists and the like. It’s also very important for people to tell doctors if they are feeling anxious or distressed.
And there are simple things you can do if you feel anxiety taking control.

“If you feel like it, it’s good to talk with people about the accident. One of the most important parts of recovery is having support from family and friends,” says Dr. Matthews.

“It’s also very important to try and re-engage with your social scene and get back to work – to get back to your pre-crash lifestyle.”

LOOKING AFTER YOURSELF

Here are some tips to look after your mental health following an accident:

  1. Give yourself time. Any difficult period in your life needs time to heal. Be patient with yourself and what you are feeling. Anxiety is normal for everyone.
  2. Talk to someone about the accident. It may be a friend, family member or someone you feel comfortable with. Just talking about your experiences, getting information about anxiety and meeting any practical needs is often all that is required to help you manage your anxiety.
  3. Look after yourself. When people feel anxious they often neglect themselves. Eat balanced meals and try to get plenty of sleep. Do some exercise, like going for a walk. Avoid increasing the amount of alcohol you drink and avoid drugs that have not been prescribed by your doctor.
  4. Take some time for yourself and do a hobby or other enjoyable activity.

WHEN TO SEEK HELP

You should seek medical advice if your symptoms:

  • Are worrying you.
  • Are preventing you from doing your normal activities.
  • Have lasted longer than three months after the accident.
  • Are causing your friends and/or relatives to be worried about you.

If your symptoms don’t ease after 3 months, or if your symptoms are severe enough to stop you living your normal life, then you have may an anxiety disorder, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Most people who are involved in a road crash won’t develop an anxiety disorder. If you do, you may experience extreme anxiety and disturbing irrational thoughts and fears. Every part of your life suffers and you seem overpowered by the experience of the crash.

Some people may:

  • Have flashbacks to the accident.
  • Dream about the accident.
  • Become distressed when exposed to reminders of the accident.
  • Feel like they are continually in a daze.
  • Be out of touch with the world or feel that their life does not seem real.
  • Avoid thoughts, feelings or conversations associated with the accident even when they may be beneficial.
  • Feel guilty about the crash.
  • Problems getting back in the car.

Dr. Matthews says that necessity will get most people back into a motor vehicle, but some people might experience difficulty.

“The general principle is, where there’s fear of something then it’s good to take it in small steps,” she says. “Make sure you have people with you to offer support, and take it slowly.”

TREATMENT AND SUPPORT

It’s important to know that, with the right treatment and support, you can recover from an anxiety disorder. Your Primary doctor is the best person to speak to first. Other health practitioners, like psychologists, social workers, counselors and psychiatrists, can help to treat anxiety disorders.

WHERE TO GET HELP

The following organizations and websites provide information on getting treatment for anxiety and help with driving anxiety.

Anxiety Disorders Association of America  www.adaa.org

National Center for PTSD http://www.ptsd.va.gov/

http://www.wikihow.com/Overcome-a-Driving-Phobia

http://www.rms.nsw.gov.au/geared/your_driving_skills/car_crashes/after_the_crash.html