Recovering From Emotional Distress After a Car Accident

If you have ever been involved in a car accident, even a minor one, you know how traumatic the experience can be. Maybe you were proceeding through a green light at an intersection when a car came out of nowhere and crashed into you. Maybe you were stopped in traffic during rush hour when you were slammed from behind. Collisions are loud, violent, and completely unexpected and those factors can create an experience very much like any other violent attack. It’s no wonder, then, that many people continue to suffer from anxiety, depression, and fear long after the accident.

What Are the Emotional Effects of a Crash?

According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there are nearly six million car crashes every year in the United States. That means that a car crashes every 10 seconds in this country. While 29 percent of those crashes result in physical injury to the occupants and around 30,000 result in a fatality, the other 70 percent of people involved may still be suffering as a result of the crash, although their injuries may not be visible.

A recent British study of car accident victims found that at least one-third of all people involved in non-fatal car accidents suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, and phobias regarding car travel a year after the crash. Even victims of minor fender-benders report feeling traumatized afterwards and, surprisingly, it is often the passengers in the accident who suffer the most emotionally. These responses to trauma can be debilitating for victims. It is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of the psychological problems victims of car accidents may suffer.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Symptoms of PTSD often don’t develop until months after the accident, and the sufferer may not even connect his symptoms to the accident at first, especially if the accident was minor. Sufferers of PTSD may experience the following aftereffects:

  • Reliving the incident. Thoughts and memories of the accident surface repeatedly, preventing the victim from moving past the trauma. The victim may also experience flashbacks, hallucinations, and nightmares.
  • Avoidance. Victims may avoid the place where the accident occurred or the people they were with at the time, or even avoid driving altogether.
  • Excessive emotions. Outbursts of anger, being easily startled, and difficulty sleeping can all be signs of PTSD. Victims may also suffer from physical effects like high blood pressure, muscle tension, increased heart rate, and rapid breathing.

Persistent Anxiety

Victims of car accidents can suffer from generalized anxiety disorder or from sporadic panic attacks. The symptoms of persistent anxiety can overlap with other psychological disorders and include the following:

  • Constant worry and fear
  • Obsessive thoughts
  • Feelings of panic
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Heart palpitations


Often a result of the symptoms of PTSD or anxiety disorder, many trauma sufferers report feelings of depression that can last months or years. Some common symptoms include:

  • Intense feelings of sadness
  • Loss of interest in things you enjoy
  • Sense of guilt or worthlessness
  • Feeling a lack of hope
  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide


What differentiates a phobia from a fear is the rationality behind the feeling. While fears are grounded in a true threat or danger, phobias are often irrational and not based on real danger. Victims of car accidents may develop a phobia about driving a car or even riding in a car. This irrational fear can lead to social isolation, which can increase the likelihood of becoming depressed.

Recognize the Illness and Get Help

While you may have been cleared by a doctor following your car accident, you could be suffering from a hidden psychological illness that needs to be treated. Once you recognize that your emotional distress is rooted in the car accident you experienced, even if that car accident was months ago, you must seek help. If any of these symptoms persist for more than a few weeks following your accident or you are finding it impossible to function in your daily life, see a doctor immediately. With counseling to deal with the trauma, you can begin to heal the hidden wounds.

Have You Been Injured In A Kansas City Area Car Accident?

From our headquarters in Kansas City, we serve all of Kansas and Missouri. We also have offices in Lee’s Summit, St. Joseph and Parkville, MO as well as Overland Park and Olathe, KS available by appointment. Call our office at 816-471-5111, start a live chat today, or use our contact form to schedule your free consultation.

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