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PTSD in Accident Survivors: Symptoms, Treatments, and Legal Protections to Look For

PTSD in Accident Survivors: Symptoms, Treatments, and Legal Protections to Look For

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, once known as “shell shock” was first mentioned in medical publications in 1915 after soldiers who’d been fighting in World War I began exhibiting various distressing symptoms and behaviors. In present time, medical science recognizes that individuals who’ve been traumatized due to a wide variety of different causes can also suffer from this debilitating condition. Essentially, what doctors and psychologists have discovered is that trauma is trauma – whether it’s caused by military action on the battlefield or even everyday car accidents on the interstate.

Indeed, it turns out that accident victims – everyday people we meet with on a daily basis in our law practice – are some of the most likely folks to experience PTSD. That being the case, let’s take a few moments to discuss PTSD… its causes, its symptoms, and its triggers. Then we’ll describe potential treatment options, and ways victims can address the problem head on.

What Is PTSD?

It’s a mental health condition recognized by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs and numerous professional organizations. The American Psychiatric Association, for example, says PTSD “affects approximately 3.5 percent of U.S. adults every year, and an estimated one in 11 people will be diagnosed with PTSD in their lifetime.” That works out to roughly 350,000 Michiganders who’ll be diagnosed with PTSD this year alone. The association also notes that women are much more likely to experience PTSD than men. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), PTSD can result after people experience “extremely traumatic events, such as combat, a terrorist attack, crime, an accident, or a natural disaster.” The APA has said car accidents are the leading cause of PTSD for American men, and the second leading cause for women.

What Causes PTSD?

Many types of events can be considered traumatic. Being exposed to extended combat in the military is the classic example of a PTSD trigger. But the American Psychiatric Association also notes that even hearing about a traumatic event – such as the violent death of a close family member – can cause some patients to experience PTSD. The association also reports that police officers repeatedly exposed to such traumatic situations as child abuse cases have been known to suffer from PTSD. Of course, other forms of trauma can lead to PTSD as well. Long familiar with PTSD since it afflicted so many British World War I and II soldiers, the National Health Service of the United Kingdom has published an exhaustive listing of the root causes of PTSD, which include (among other things) “serious accidents, exposure to traumatic events at work, physical or sexual assault, war and conflict, torture, and serious health problems (such as being admitted to intensive care).” In short, any type of disturbing incident or experience that you may imagine could be traumatic can cause patients to suffer from PTSD.

How Do I know if I have PTSD?

First of all, a diagnosis of PTSD requires the patient to have been exposed (directly or indirectly) to a traumatic event. Then, according to the American Psychiatric Association, symptoms “must last for more than a month and must cause significant distress or problems in the individual’s daily functioning.” The association describes four main classes of PTSD symptoms, which include:

  • Intrusion, such as terrifying flashbacks where the victim repeatedly relives the traumatic event.
  • Avoidance, where victims do anything possible to stop remembering or talking about the causes of their trauma.
  • Alterations in the patient’s mental state, such as alienation from friends, an inability to experience positive feelings or happiness, or a perpetual state of fear or anxiety.
  • Changes in the patient’s normal behavior, including increased anger or irritability, a propensity to act self-destructively, an inability to sleep, and acting in a seemingly paranoid fashion.

PTSD can lead to other issues including substance abuse, risky behaviors, “adrenaline chasing” and more as noted by a leading rehabilitation organization which has published this comprehensive list of PTSD symptoms.

Can Children Suffer from PTSD?

Absolutely. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia notes that one of every 25 children under 18 will experience some form of trauma leading to PTSD, citing a National Institute of Mental Health study that reports seven percent of girls and two percent of boys will be diagnosed with the disorder. The Centers for Disease Control says that children who exhibit symptoms including nightmares and sleep difficulties, strong negative emotional responses, helplessness, and ongoing fear or sorrow (among other negative behaviors) could possibly be suffering from PTSD. The Michigan Department of Health & Human Services has published a website designed to help parents, caregivers, and other adults assist children who are suffering from various forms of trauma.

What About Passengers in a Car Accident?

Drivers and passengers alike can develop PTSD. The National Institute of Mental Health supported a lengthy study of accident victims that concluded “individuals who experience a serious motor vehicle accident are at increased risk for psychological problems, particularly Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).” Research cited in the study notes that between 25-33 percent of motor vehicle accident survivors experience PTSD, adding between 2.5 and 7 million Americans are currently suffering from PTSD following car accidents.

What Treatments Are Available for PTSD?

The American Psychiatric Association recommends several possible treatment options, including the use of antidepressants and other medications, participation in group therapy sessions, engaging in cognitive behavioral therapy, and taking advantage of animal-assisted therapy services (such as emotional support dogs). Psychology Today magazine has published a list of Michigan-based support groups for PTSD patients. Of course, patients will have to deal with paying for many of those treatments – which can be traumatic in itself! Fortunately there is some help available from Michigan’s Crime Victim Compensation program if your PTSD therapy expenses (or a number of other related costs) result from a traumatic incident. You can also check to see if mental health treatment is covered by your personal medical insurance policy.

Is PTSD Considered a Disability?

It can be. The U.S. Social Security Administration briefly details information on PTSD in its official disability fact sheet, and provides complete guidance online describing how people with PTSD can qualify for disability benefits by meeting some very specific criteria, which include experiencing many of the symptoms listed above, resulting from “exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or violence.”

Does Federal Law Protect PTSD Victims at Work?

It certainly does. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) will back you up with the full legal power of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). If you have documented PTSD, the ADA safeguards your rights by prohibiting harassment, protecting your privacy, making discrimination against you a crime, and requiring employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” for you to help you do your job and maintain it. The EEOC website explains steps you can take to obtain their assistance – which is also available to people suffering from depression and other mental health disabilities.

Can I Do Anything Else to Fight PTSD?

Yes, and we can help! Sometimes facing the root cause of your PTSD head on can help reduce or minimize symptoms. You can file a lawsuit against the person responsible for causing your PTSD. Of course, you’ll need to have a dependable ally on your side, a dependable attorney who will advocate for you be fully compensated for your pain and suffering, get you necessary assistance paying for medical expenses and therapies, and to be there for you as a trusted ally to rely on. Give us a call at 855-MIKE-WINS (855-645-3946) or stop by to see us in person at our Southfield office. We’ll be there for you.

PTSD in Accident Survivors: Symptoms, Treatments, and Legal Protections to Look For

Content checked by Mike Morse, personal injury attorney with Mike Morse Injury Law Firm. Mike Morse is the founder of Mike Morse Law Firm, the largest personal injury law firm in Michigan. Since being founded in 1995, Mike Morse Law Firm has grown to 150 employees, served 25,000 clients, and collected more than $1 billion for victims of auto, truck and motorcycle accidents. The main office is in Southfield, MI but you can also find us in Detroit, Sterling Heights and many other locations.