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How To Help Someone Facing Emotional Trauma After A Car Accident

Car accidents leave more than physical reminders. You may have a visible scar from a gash or surgical incision. You may have broken a bone and walk or carry yourself differently. Those are the physical reminders. People expect them.

What about the emotional scars? Emotional trauma is one of the most common permanent injuries after a car crash. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, about 1 in 4 men report traumatic stress following a motor vehicle accident. The numbers are slightly lower for women. Emotional trauma following a car accident is the most commonly named trigger, yet it’s so hard to overcome. It’s also an emotional scar that people don’t always understand. People think that someone survived the crash, so why would they still be dealing with it emotionally months or years later?

If you have a loved one or friend who was in a car crash. Emotional trauma is very likely. Post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, stress, and anxiety/panic attacks are all problems people face after a car crash. Dismissing it is the worst thing you can do. It’s real and scary. These are the best ways to help someone.

Get Medical Advice

A panic attack is one of the most frightening experiences someone with post-traumatic stress disorder will experience. The heart races and may skip a beat. Breathing shallows. Chest pains, tingling extremities, clamminess, and dizziness are all common. Thoughts of heart attack are one of the first places the mind goes.

This anxiety may appear within days of the car crash or weeks or months later. Don’t dismiss it. Go to a doctor with your friend or family member and talk about the crash and the possibility that this could be emotional trauma starting to show. If the doctor dismisses it, ask to see a specialist. Anxiety and PTSD will not magically improve. Support groups and therapy will help the most. Some doctors miss the signs because they’re looking for a physical cause. Don’t be afraid to advocate and be pushy if needed.

Listen Without Judgment

When anxiety and stress are at their worst, having someone to talk to helps. Don’t make any judgment or place blame on anyone. Listen to your friend or family member and let them vent as much as is needed. The more they can talk about their fears, the easier it is to manage the panic and anxiety that start to take over.

They may be fine for weeks and suddenly relapse. That’s part of the healing process. It won’t always be perfect, but you can assure them that the relapse is normal and not a sign that all the progress they made is disappearing.


PTSD and anxiety can wear a person down. Your friend or family member may feel horrible and question their sanity. Be ready to reassure that it’s normal and part of the body’s protective nature. The accident was scary and the body is reacting accordingly.

Watch for signs of depression while you reassure. If they stop wanting to get out of bed, leave the home, or participate in activities that were once favorites, it could be depression. Treatments can help them manage the depression that’s setting in.

Be Available and Help With Coping Techniques

One thing your loved one will need most is someone to just be there. If you get a call that they’re having a bad day, offer to stop by later with takeout and a movie. If you can’t get out of another commitment, explain that you wish you could but can stop by as soon as it is possible.

One of the difficulties following a car accident is getting back behind the wheel. Offer to ride with them while they overcome the anxiety they face. You may need to take over driving from time to time. Take small steps and don’t push it if the panic is becoming intense. It may require taking a longer route or turning around and going back home. Baby steps will help your friend or family member become more comfortable in a car and on roads around the accident site.

Don’t show up if you’re not needed. It’s just as important that they try to manage daily activities independently. Coping techniques will be part of a therapy session, so help them go back over the things the therapist said. Many panic attacks and stressful episodes are managed with relaxation techniques like deep breathing, muscle exercises that focus on tension and release, and positive thinking exercises.

In addition to being there for someone following a car crash, urge them to talk to a lawyer. Carpenter & Zuckerman specialize in personal injuries following motor vehicle accidents. Consultations are always free, so there’s no risk to discuss the crash that’s led to emotional distress. Call CZR Trial Lawyers for Justice at 888-CZR-FIRST.

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