Psychological injury motor vehicle accidents

Most people experience a shock when involved in a traffic accident and some people go on to develop more serious psychological conditions due to the initial shock and its aftermath. The initial shock caused by being involved in a motor vehicle accident may, in itself, be enough to cause a long lasting psychological condition which could have devastating effects upon your life, ability to work and your family. People who suffer physical injuries in a traffic accident can also go on to develop psychological conditions caused by difficulty coping with constant pain and suffering caused by their physical injury and not being able to work or fulfil their activities of daily living in a meaningful way.


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It is important that you consult your doctor in relation to any psychological consequences that you have following a motor vehicle accident. If your psychological condition is long lasting and you are certified with a whole person impairment greater than 10%, you will be entitled to claim damages up to a maximum in excess of $500,000 for pain and suffering, emotional distress and loss of enjoyment of life.

In addition to this, if you are suffering economic loss because you cannot work or you have a reduced earning capacity, then a claim for damages can be made for continuing wage loss or loss of earning capacity until retirement age and, sometimes, beyond that age.

1.     Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Most people will experience a shock when involved in a traffic accident however majority will not develop a mental disorder due to that as the initial shock will pass after a few days or weeks. If the symptoms persist it may be the sign of developing a post-traumatic stress disorder.
a.   “Flashbacks” – Recurrent, intrusive memories of the accident (can’t stop thinking about it) followed by fear, uneasiness, emotional reactions, reliving the accident
b.   Avoidance – avoiding to think about the accident, avoiding the site of the accident, feeling uneasy in a car, refusing to drive or to be in a car with someone else driving.
c.   Hypervigilance – feeling “jumpy”, being hyper aroused, easily startled (to any stimuli, related or non-related to the accident
d.   Feeling distant from the reality, or being ‘depersonalised’ (feeling as though your mind is not in your body)
e.   Experiencing nightmares (it can be of the accident, but more often of unspecific content – simply bad dreams)
2.     Depression (Major Depressive Disorder)
Anyone can feel “blue” when exposed to something sad, disappointing, to loss or some kind of emotional hardship. Such mental state is referred to as “reactive depression” and is expected to settle with time. When the symptoms persist it is necessary to introduce treatment. After a MVA people may develop depressive symptoms due to pain caused by injuries, dramatic change to the lifestyle or family dynamics, loss of employment, social isolation, inability to continue with pre-injury activities, etc.
a.     anxiety, apathy, general discontent, guilt, hopelessness, loss of interest, loss
b.     of interest or pleasure in activities, mood swings, or sadness
c.     early awakening, excess sleepiness, insomnia, or restless sleep
d.     excessive hunger, fatigue, loss of appetite, or restlessness
e.     agitation, excessive crying, irritability, or social isolation
f.      lack of concentration, slowness in activity, or thoughts of suicide

3.     Anxiety
Anxiety is a driving force behind our thoughts and behaviours and it varies according to the life situations one is exposed to. When it becomes constantly elevated it is considered a psychological disorder and it causes a long list of psychological conditions referred to as “anxiety disorders”. People with high anxiety are commonly diagnosed with more than one anxiety-related condition. Having elevated anxiety daily is normal but having constantly elevated anxiety is a disorder.
fatigue, restlessness, or sweating
hypervigilance or irritability
racing thoughts or unwanted thoughts
insomnia, nausea, palpitations
Constant tension
Anxiety or panic attacks
Abnormal breathing or inability to regulate breathing (feeling of chocking, pressure in the chest, or lacking oxygen)
Feeling lightheaded and unsteady
Being unable to “wind down”)

4.     Adjustment Disorder with Mixed Anxiety and Depression
Basically any combination of symptoms of depression and elevated anxiety. There are different types of this disorder according to the prevalence of the presenting symptoms.
Adjustment disorder with depressed mood

People diagnosed with this type of adjustment disorder tend to experience feelings of sadness and hopelessness. It’s also associated with crying. You may also find that you no longer enjoy activities that you formerly enjoyed.
Adjustment disorder with anxiety

Symptoms associated with adjustment disorder with anxiety include feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and worried. People with this disorder may also have problems with concentration and memory. For children, this diagnosis is usually associated with separation anxiety from parents and loved ones.
Adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood

People with this kind of adjustment disorder experience both depression and anxiety.
Adjustment disorder with disturbance of conduct

Symptoms of this type of adjustment disorder mainly involve behavioural issues like driving recklessly or starting fights. Teens with this disorder may steal or vandalize property. They might also start missing school.
Adjustment disorder with mixed disturbance of emotions and conduct

Symptoms linked to this type of adjustment disorder include depression, anxiety, and behavioural problems.
Adjustment disorder unspecified

Those diagnosed with adjustment disorder unspecified have symptoms that aren’t associated with the other types of adjustment disorder. These often include physical symptoms or problems with friends, family, work, or school.

5.     Insomnia
Irregular sleep or disturbed sleep pattern, meaning that an individual has difficulties commencing sleep, maintaining sleep or both. Having normal sleep pattern means having no difficulties falling asleep at night and sleeping in continuation until morning.

Following involvement in a MVA, a person may develop insomnia due to pain and discomfort caused by injuries, anxiety, trauma, depression, or simply stress related to dealing with insurance company, police, courts, etc. Insomnia is often a symptom of one of the disorders listed above but it can be diagnosed as a separate, stand-alone condition.

6.     Substance abuse
Abusing legal or illicit substances or developing addiction to one or more of them.

People who became involved in traffic accidents may resort to various substances in order to deal with physical and emotional pain. This is a form of “self medication” and is considered a psychological disorder which requires appropriate treatment

7.     Aggravation to existing psychological problems or accident as a trigger for an onset of mental disorder
A traffic accident may cause aggravation of the pre-existing mental health condition which prior was stable or under control. People also may have a genetic predisposition to a certain mental disorder which would never surface unless triggered by a shock of a MVA.

8.     Mental Health Problems in Children Following a MVA
After exposure to a MVA, children can also develop symptoms of trauma, depression, anxiety and insomnia. This becomes apparent in their academic performance, conduct at school or home, interaction with peers or siblings, regression development (reverting to sleeping with parents, wanting to have lights on at night), arguing with siblings, becoming irritable, impulsive, refusing to travel and thus avoid sports or out of-school activities which they previously enjoyed, crying more frequently etc. Children are not very accurate in describing their psychological symptoms but parents are usually able to detect subtle or obvious changes in their children’s emotions and behaviour.

The above disorders are typically found in people who were involved in serious motor vehicle accidents. There is a number of other psychological illnesses that an individual may develop due to such exposure, requiring expert diagnosis and treatment by a qualified mental health professional.

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