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Who's most likely to develop PTSD after a crash?

If you feel like you still haven't recovered emotionally from a car crash months after it happened, you're not alone. In fact, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), nearly 40% of crash survivors develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Motor vehicle accidents are the primary cause of PTSD.

Interestingly, when studying who is most likely to suffer PTSD after a crash, researchers have found that it's less dependent on the crash itself (for example, whether people were injured or how severe the crash was) and more dependent on characteristics of the people themselves and how they manage dealing with the after-effects of the crash.

For example, people are more likely to develop PTSD after a crash if they have a history of trauma or psychological problems. People who don't have a good support system after the crash may be more at risk of PTSD, also.

One element of the crash (or at least how it was perceived), however, is a strong determinant of whether someone develops PTSD. If a person believed that they or someone else was in danger of dying, they're at higher risk. If that realization or perception that you could have died that can keep people from getting behind the wheel again or perhaps not driving on the highway or in an area that reminds you of the crash. These "avoidance behaviors" can cause or worsen PTSD.

It's perfectly normal to feel a wide range of emotions after a crash -- including shock, fear, guilt and helplessness -- depending on what happened. If you've been involved in a crash, it's important to be on the lookout for things like:

  • Avoidance behaviors
  • Changes in emotional reactions
  • Negative mood or thinking changes
  • Intrusive memories

For many people, these feelings go away over time. If you find that one or more of them is staying with you or getting worse months after the crash and are interfering with your life, it's probably wise to seek the help of a mental health professional. There are treatments and therapeutic techniques to help people with PTSD.

That's why it's important, if you're seeking compensation from an at-fault driver, not just to focus on your immediate physical injuries, but to take a longer-term perspective. An experienced attorney can help ensure that you're considering all of the expenses and damages that could result from the crash.

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