In 2013, 2,313,000 people were injured in motor vehicle traffic crashes in the United States according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Luckily, most accidents are not fatal, but even minor accidents may be responsible for causing long-term anxieties, fears and phobias associated with driving or riding in a car.
British researchers say at least one-third of all people involved in nonfatal accidents experience some form of post-traumatic stress disorder, ongoing anxiety, depression and phobias one year after the incident.
The study indicates large psychological complications can occur even if the car accident didn’t involve serious injuries. Researchers say there used to be an assumption that the more severe the accident and medical injuries the more likelihood of psychiatric complications, but that isn’t so according to the study that appears in the August issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry. They found that:
- More than 1,000 men and women taken to a hospital after an accident recovered from the psychological impact within three to 12 months.
- Others developed anxiety and other symptoms months after the accident.
- Most people with persistent anxiety were passengers and not drivers.
- Traveling anxiety could include feeling nervous in a car while driving or as a passenger. More severe anxiety could mean avoiding traveling in cars altogether.
- It’s not uncommon to feel nervous when passing the accident site or when you’re driving in similar road conditions.
- Many felt anxiety when driving in a similar make/model or color of car.
Long term stress associated with car accidents, just like other forms of trauma, can impact your work and relationships. Gone without help or medication, ongoing stress can eventually lead to depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders.
Traffic accidents have become the leading cause of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) since the Vietnam War and it is estimated that 9 percent of survivors of serious accidents develop significant post-traumatic stress symptoms. Many other survivors of car accidents experience PTSD-like reactions.
If you’ve been involved in a car accident and after several months you are still feeling anxious or nervous; have stopped driving or are avoiding driving; have trouble sleeping due to dreams or thoughts about the accident, then you should seek help from your family physician. Because your physician knows you and is familiar with your pre-accident characteristics and health, he/she will be able to judge and evaluate your symptoms objectively. If he/she notices any changes in your behavior they should be able to recommend a medical professional with experience treating post traumatic stress disorder.