Could a car accident add more problems to my posttraumatic stress disorder?

I have been diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder due to my military experiences. Not a year ago, I had a car accident. Could this experience add more problems?

Eric Ström, JD, MA, LMHC
Eric Ström, JD, MA, LMHC
Attorney & Licensed Mental Health Counselor

You are right on to recognize that the effects of trauma can be cumulative.  It is very possible that a car accident could lead to an increase in PTSD symptoms that were related to other traumatic experiences.

If you have been deployed to a combat area, you are most likely eligible for free counseling services through the VA Vet Centers.  The Vet Center clinicians typically have a lot of experience working with military trauma. Here's a link to a directory of Vet Centers:

http://www.va.gov/directory/guide/vetcenter.asp

Your service and sacrifice is greatly appreciated. 

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care nor legal advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist/attorney nor does it create a therapist-client nor attorney-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.
Eric Koll
Eric Koll
Gold standard trauma therapy for adult Nerds, Geeks, Weirdos, and Misfits

The short answer is yes ,with a "maybe" tagged on the end. Let me explain.  First off, thank you for serving our country. The vast majority of the population will never understand the sorts of experiences that military members have encountered. And we know that veterans suffer from PTSD at higher percentages than civilians. We also know that motor vehicle accidents are the most common cause of PTSD. My friend, you've been struggling, it seems. 

So it can be helpful to think of PTSD symptoms like a wave, or a series of waves. Sometimes the waves are larger and last for longer, and sometimes they're easier to manage. 

One of the most common ways for PTSD waves to be more challenging is due to something we call "avoidance." We avoid both internal things (thinking about the trauma, avoiding unpleasant emotions, etc...) but also external reminders (perhaps driving in a car, being in crowds, being around loud noises, people standing behind you, etc...). And the more we push that stuff away, the longer those waves stick around. 

Therefore trauma therapy usually involves confronting that avoidance in safe and protected ways to try to reteach your brain that even through something might feel upsetting, it doesn't mean that you're actually in danger. Let me give you an example. Lets say you avoid being in a crowd. Your PTSD wants to convince you that ALL crowds are dangerous. And, between you and me, we both know that there are some crowds that are ABSOLUTELY dangerous. If you're in a biker bar where people are smoking meth and throwing knives at dartboards...that's probably a pretty dangerous place to be. But maybe you don't hang out in biker bars. Maybe you're just trying to pick up your milk and eggs at the grocery store when your crowd-avoidance kicks in. Well those two environments are very different. COULD something dangerous happen in the grocery store? Yes. Is it LIKELY that you're in danger? Probably not. 

And so if you've worked through the PTSD from the military but then go through a car accident, it might be that some of those old avoidant patterns are popping back up. The good news, however, is that there are several different options (through the VA, Vet Center, or private counseling) that can help. Look for what's called an Evidence-Based Approach. These are things like Cognitive Processing Therapy, Prolonged Exposure Therapy, Written Exposure Therapy, or Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing. Your counselor can help you decide which might be the best approach for you. 

PTSD is very treatable. You don't have to suffer. Reach out to a qualified therapist. 

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.
Kennedy McLean
Kennedy McLean
Trauma Specialist, Therapist in Private Practice

It depends on what you mean by problems however, a therapist who specializes in PTSD I can say it wouldn’t be uncommon to see an increase in PTSD symptoms or severity after something like a car accident. It is just adding trauma onto trauma. Sort of like kicking you when you are down, your body may not have the same resources to handle the car accident as it did at other times in your life. Hopefully that makes sense. 

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.
RINDA SMITH
RINDA SMITH
Director, Rinspire Life Coaching

A car accident can be scary and possibly trigger your symptoms of PTSD. It is good that you recognize the possibility of this occurring.

Not everyone who experiences a car accident develops PTSD. The chances are definitely increased due to your prior diagnosis during military service.

Some of the things to be mindful of for yourself include:

1. Feelings of anxiety and increased heart rate when you're faced with reminders of the event.

2. Feeling a little more on edge when you're driving.

3.Being more watchful. You're more likely to scan your environment for potential sources of threats.

4. Avoidance. Because of the anxiety that often follows an accident, it's natural that you may want to avoid some situations or experience hesitation at times.

If you experience any of these symptoms or feel other symptoms of PTSD it would be advisable to seek help possibly through your local VA Medical Clinic or a private practitioner. There are certain modalities such as EMDR that can help with your symptoms. 

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.
David Routt
David Routt
President and Clinical Counselor at Totius Therapies

There are many types of traumas, and they certainly can compound on one another as you experience them. Without treating the traumas, or incidents where you felt there was a significant risk to your safety or that of others, there can be a cumulative effect. What we have learned in the mental health field from studying traumas, is that the body as a whole responds to these stressors in order to keep you safe during the events. If the body does not realize that it no longer needs to respond in this way because the event is now over, and then receives a trigger from a new event, it makes sense that the new event could cause additional issues. Both of these events can be addressed with the help of a Counselor. There are many Counselors that specialize in trauma inside and outside of the VA, so shop around if you are able and find someone that you connect with. 

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.
Christopher Smith
Christopher Smith
President and Clinical Director, Seeking Shalom

A car accident can be a traumatic event. Especially,  if it was serious, you could have feared for your life, felt everythingvwas out of control and had normal reactions to an abnormal situation afterwards. 

This may or may not be related to the traumas that you experienced in the military. If it is then it is possible that you will see a direct effect in triggering off PTSD symptoms. Even if it didn't, it is possible that the complexity of the two situations will interact inside you to be a combined response. 

Having already been diagnosed with PTSD, this might be a good time to reconnect with the help system you had around military experiences and explore it a little bit about the new experience. The right exploration does not have to make things worse and can be a good source of prevention. 

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.
Mindy Ross
Mindy Ross
We get there together one step at a time.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can occur after any traumatic event where a real and present threat of harm or loss of life to yourself or others is present. Yes, a car accident could increase PTSD symptoms such as hyper-vigilance, anxiety, nightmares, re-playing the event, etc. Depending on the severity of the accident new triggers might exist. This is not to say that you cannot recover. Are you currently experiencing additional trauma symptoms?
The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.

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