Recognising road accident trauma

When dealing with a car accident, your physical wellbeing isn’t your only concern – you may suffer from mental and emotional trauma too.

With as many as 36 deaths on our roads daily and about 14 000 accidents every year, most people are bound to be affected – directly or indirectly – by the trauma of car crashes. Most of those involved in serious (and sometimes even minor) car accidents will suffer mental and emotional trauma.

The type of trauma and its severity are case-specific, and can be influenced by the individual’s personality and the emotional support they receive from others. So what typifies this trauma and how can you deal with it?

Following a minor accident it’s quite normal to struggle to sleep and to have temporary feelings of irritability, anger and moodiness. But reactions to major crashes are harder to predict because of their life-changing effects.

Severe accidents can have devastating effects on you and your family. You and your family may have to come to terms with unsettling changes as a result of extensive physical injuries.

But coming to terms with the mental and emotional fallout of an accident can be more complex. Some victims have behavioural and personality changes owing to head injuries. Some people’s personalities do stabilise with time but some of the changes could be permanent.

Other problems that can occur as a result of head injuries include seizures, lack of inhibition, impaired self-awareness and an inability to take responsibility or accept criticism.

Victims could find themselves suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is an on going emotional response to the traumatic incident. Symptoms include trouble functioning at work and at home, recurring nightmares and flashbacks, and the inability to form and maintain close, satisfying relationships. Anger, depression and emotional numbness are also signs to look out for.

Another anxiety disorder that can be triggered by accidents is acute stress reaction. Unlike PTSD, the symptoms appear within two days of the event and last for less than a month. The symptoms are similar to PTSD and, if untreated, can develop into PTSD.

These serious side effects are often the hardest for the victim’s friends and family to deal with.  Treatment is often a combination of psychotherapy and medication such as antidepressants.