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Invisible Injuries: When Accidents Leave Emotional Wreckage

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The crash came out of nowhere, jarring you out of your thoughts about what you were going to have for dinner that night. With a sudden, slamming impact your life changed forever. You remember the sheer terror you felt as the pain overwhelmed you and emergency personnel put you in the ambulance. Although the physical injuries from your accident have settled into a new, background reality of chronic pain, you also suffered emotional injuries that sometimes feel as acute as the day the crash occurred. Did you know that compensation for emotional damage is possible? Even though your hurts may be difficult to point out to other people, these invisible injuries are wreckage just as are your physical wounds.

Post-traumatic stress disorder

PTSD, as it is better known, is a complex array of symptoms that result in great emotional pain for its sufferers. Symptoms of PTSD include

  • flashbacks of the traumatic event

  • nightmares

  • extremely sensitive "startle" response (i.e. jumping at minor sounds)

  • guilt

  • intense fear of situations that resemble the circumstances of the trauma

  • mood changes, such as rage or anxiety episodes

  • hyperarousal (always feeling "on edge")

A review of studies done among motor vehicle accident survivors by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) shows that 25-33% of motor vehicle accident survivors display PTSD symptoms. A year after traumatic events (including accidents), 23% of survivors still present with PTSD. Two years later, the figure is nearly steady at 20 percent. This disorder is an extremely challenging one, both for the person affected by it and for his/her loved ones, because of the unpredictability of upsetting moods and behaviors.


Depression is also quite common after you experience a life-changing adverse event. Depression includes symptoms such as

  • pervasive sadness

  • changes in eating and sleeping patterns

  • difficulty concentrating or making decisions

  • withdrawal from previously enjoyed social activities

  • gloomy thoughts, including the wish to die

  • suicide attempts

Depression often occurs alongside a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. The NCBI review reports that after experiencing trauma, 25% of those seeking treatment for trauma-related symptoms are clinically depressed. However, in patients seeking treatment who have been diagnosed with PTSD, that number jumps to 41-48%, depending on the study to which one refers. Many people misunderstand depression, thinking patients are "going through a phase" or "having a rough patch." However, for those who suffer through it, the disorder is one of deep emotional difficulty.


It is certainly understandable that someone who has been through such a fearful event as a car crash would develop anxiety. While there are several types of anxiety disorder (PTSD is one), typical symptoms include

  • frequent feelings of fear, panic, and unease

  • difficulty sleeping

  • heart palpitations

  • shortness of breath

  • dry mouth

  • numbness/tingling in hands or feet

  • dizziness

Other types of anxiety disorders also can occur with PTSD; the NCBI review puts the possibility of co-occurrence at a range of 7-31%, depending on a variety of factors. Anxiety makes it difficult to carry out activities of daily living.

Just because psychological injuries are invisible doesn't mean they aren't profoundly life-altering. If you are dealing with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, or anxiety, then you need treatment--and treatment is expensive. Allowances for therapy sessions should be added to the compensation you are seeking for physical injuries. Further, if you are unable to work, drive, or go about other routine life tasks because of your psychological difficulties, your settlement should include just provision for the way your life has been altered.

An accident attorney will route you to a psychologist who will not only thoroughly diagnose and treat your psychological troubles, but will also testify in court if needed. Check out the site for more information. Make sure your settlement includes enough compensation to clean up the emotional wreckage from your accident.