According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (APA, 2013) roughly one in four motor vehicle accidents (MVA) lead to post traumatic stress symptoms. The issue is that everyone knows the physical symptoms of a MVA (whiplash, concussions, broken bones) but not everyone recognizes the mental, psychological, and emotional injuries. Below is a description of what to look out for when it comes to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), acute stress disorder, or other trauma related disorders.
This is where unwanted thoughts, feelings, physical responses, and memories infect and intrude on our day to day life. This can include things such as nightmares, invasive memories that distract us, intrusive thoughts when we least want them, and ﬂashbacks where we can feel as if we are right back in the situation. Sometimes these symptoms can be subtle and difﬁcult to identify. For example, not all ﬂashback involve an explosive behavioral response like it is portrayed in the movies and television; sometimes when people have ﬂashbacks it can look like they are “spacing out” but internally they are panicked or experiencing terror. If you notice you are constantly thinking about your accident, have constant muscle tension or a racing heart, experiencing frequent emotions similar to the time of accident (fear, panic, or anger) these are all signs you may have intrusion symptoms.
This is where you try to avoid any kind of reminders of the accident. This can include trying to block or suppress any thoughts, feelings, or memories. Some people may start using drugs or alcohol to avoid thinking about or remembering a traumatic event. Some people will abruptly change the topic of discussion if they are reminded of their MVA. It can also be avoiding external reminders such as people, places, or situations. Maybe you ﬁnd yourself avoiding a certain intersection or refusing to use any freeways. Avoidance can also be difﬁcult to recognize since we as people are really talented at justifying our behavior. “I’m not avoiding freeways; I’m taking the scenic route.” “I could go by that intersection if I wanted to; I just don’t want to.” The trick here is to be aware of patterns. Notice if it is happening often. Taking the scenic route one time is understandable taking it every day or even worse avoiding driving all together is the problem. If you notice a pattern of avoidance you may be experiencing a trauma symptom.
This describes two different situations. One where we have a difﬁcult time remembering important aspects of the event and it is not related to having a traumatic brain injury or excessive substance use. Two we develop negative, exaggerated, and/or unrealistic beliefs about ourselves and the world which cause us to experience decreased interest and excitement, increased sadness and anxiety, and a sense of detachment and disconnection. Have your noticed a drastic shift in how you view the world and yourself? Has your mood taken a sudden nose dive, or do you struggle remembering vital parts of the incident? If yes, than you may be struggling with PTSD.
This is where we react to reminders and situations with irritability, anxiety, panic, anger, or aggression; we can be recklessness and put ourselves in dangerous situations. We have poor concentration and poor sleep. People may tell us that we are “always on edge” or that we need to “focus more” or we may even notice more and more people telling us more and more often to “calm down.” If you are noticing any of these signs you may want to seek out professional help.
Here’s the good news: there is hope. PTSD and similar trauma related disorders can be healed and life can improve. There are many different methods and treatment modalities that help people improve symptoms so they can start to get their lives back together. If you need help, don’t just hope it will pass on its own, please reach out to a local therapist or medical doctor get the help you need now.
American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 5. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association; 2013. Text revision.
Alex Runolfson, CMHC is owner of Bloom Recovery a mental health therapy practice in Salt Lake City, Utah. Bloom Recovery focuses on helping people heal psychological and emotional wounds of the past so they can begin to Bloom in the present. Alex can be reached at
[email protected], 801-866-3546, and at bloom-recovery.com.
Disclaimer: This blog is designed for educational, informational, and entertainment purposes. It not meant to be a substitute for any mental health or medical treatment or diagnosis. If you need a doctor or therapist please ﬁnd one near you. Please do not attempt to do anything without your doctor and therapist or other professional’s go ahead, and remember to use common sense.