Motor vehicle accidents (MVA) can result in devastating physical damage – to other vehicles, property, and the people involved.

Immediately following an accident, first responders provide medical treatment to victims suffering from physical injuries. These injuries may require further medical attention and rehabilitation and, therefore, often become the focus of personal injury claims. 

However, it is important not to overlook or dismiss psychological problems that may result from a motor vehicle accident. It is very natural for people who have been involved in a car accident to feel stress, anxiety and even depression afterward. These are other forms of injury which may require treatment and compensation. 

The Risk of Developing a Mental Disorder

Understanding that many physical injuries will only get worse if left untreated is nothing more than common sense. The realization that the same is true for mental health issues is unfortunately not yet as widespread. When dealing with mental trauma — something invisible to observers but no less real than physical trauma — the attitude that a person should “tough it out” or just “get over it” has been lamentably common and persistent. 

Studies have shown that the psychological repercussions of an MVA have a high probability of leading to serious mental disorders if left untreated. Post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder are the most common.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental disorder caused by witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event. A study in the United States identified car crashes as the leading cause of PTSD in the general population.

The Mayo Clinic groups PTSD symptoms into four categories:

Avoidance — People suffering from PTSD may not want to think or talk about the triggering event. They may also avoid activities, places or people associated with it. If the triggering event is a car accident, it is easy to see how disruptive this can be in many areas of life, including jobs and recreational activities.

Intrusive Memories — These may take the form of flashbacks, nightmares or recurring, unwanted memories of the triggering event. 

Negative changes in thinking and mood — PTSD can cause feelings of hopelessness or detachment from family and friends. You may feel negative or numb and have difficulty experiencing positive emotions and enjoying activities you once enjoyed.

Changes in emotional or physical reactions can include being easily startled or always on guard for danger. PTSD may also cause difficulty sleeping or concentrating. Some people experience increased irritability, aggression or mood swings. 

Major Depressive Disorder

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) include feeling hopeless or depressed, suicidal thoughts, difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much, fatigue, low appetite, the inability to feel pleasure and disconnection from family and friends. In aggregate, these symptoms can create a serious impairment that leaves people unable to function in their lives, families and jobs. 

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is characterized by the tendency to worry even when there is no identifiable reason to do so. This disorder can cause various symptoms, including sleep disturbances, fatigue, poor concentration, irritability, being easily startled or unable to relax. It can also have physical manifestations, including trembling, sweating, headaches, lightheadedness and nausea.

Those suffering from persistent anxiety following a car crash are at risk of experiencing panic attacks or developing phobias related to driving or travel.

Traumatic Brain Injuries

Physical injuries can also cause mental health problems. Concussions are a mild form of traumatic brain injury (TBI) that frequently results from car accidents. Among the symptoms of concussions to watch out for are sleep disturbances and emotional impacts such as mood swings, irritability or depression. Further information on the signs and symptoms can be found in our recent blog post, Concussions and Car Accidents.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Mental Disorders

Anyone exhibiting any symptoms identified above should immediately see a doctor for a physical and psychological assessment. This may seem obvious, but it is essential to remember that some people experience feelings of hopelessness, fatigue, depression and disconnection, all of which can lead to apathy and inaction. 

The prevalence of mental disorders resulting from MVAs is such that a book has been written on the subject: Psychological Evaluations after Motor Vehicle Accidents: A Practitioner’s Guide. One of the book’s authors, Dr. Thomas Dalby, is a forensic psychologist, adjunct professor at the University of Calgary and member of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute. He has advised that a “holistic approach” must be taken when evaluating the mental health of someone who has been involved in a car crash. These disorders may be closely correlated, as the similarity in symptoms suggests.

Treatment strategies for mental disorders continue to evolve and improve. Psychotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, relaxation techniques and medications are all possibilities that should be discussed and explored with a mental health professional. 

Compensation for Mental Disorders

Common to all of the therapies mentioned above is the reality that there is no “quick fix”; a post-traumatic mental disorder will require ongoing treatment and support. 

It is possible for a personal injury claim to receive compensation for treatment expenses. However, the legal question of causation will not be as straightforward as when dealing with physical injuries resulting from a car accident. The assistance of legal and medical experts will be required to properly examine and document the accident’s impact on the victim and successfully pursue a claim for compensation.

Our Calgary Personal Injury Lawyers Are Here To Assist You If You’re Experiencing Psychological Problems Because of an Accident

If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health issues because of a car accident, contact the knowledgeable personal injury lawyers at Cuming Gillespie LLP. Our team can advise you on your legal rights, explain what compensation you may be entitled to, and guide you through documenting what you have experienced. Call us at 403-571-0555 or online to set up an initial consultation.