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A new book out entitled After the Crash indicates that motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD) in the general U.S. population. Car crashes are the most frequent directly experienced trauma for men and the second most frequent for women. TBI survivors are well acquainted with motor vehicle accidents, as they are the second leading cause of TBI in the U.S. (CDC 2004 statistics), but may not be informed on what PTSD is.

What is PTSD ?

PTSD is a response to or a set of symptoms experienced following exposure to a life-threatening event. PTSD can occur even if you are a witness to an event that involves death or serious injury to a person other than yourself. This response involves intense fear or helplessness that lasts more than a month after the event occurred.

People suffering from PTSD persistently reexperience the traumatic event, by replaying the event in their mind, having nightmares about it or by feeling as if it were still happening. Many times a person suffering from PTSD may begin to avoid places that remind them of the traumatic event. An example would be avoiding the interstate highway if one had experienced a crash there.

Some people with PTSD go numb. They become detached, less involved with others lives, isolated. They loose interest in activities they used to like. Some experience a sense of foreshortened future, which means they may not expect to have a normal life span, have a family or have a career.

PTSD is also associated with heightened arousal. It may be hard to fall asleep or stay asleep. Hypervigalence and irritability are common symptoms. It may also be difficult to concentrate.

*Please note that children respond to traumatic events in different ways. The above symptoms are only indicated in the adult population.
** If you suspect that you may be experiencing PTSD discuss it with your doctor and someone you trust - the good news is the above symptoms can be effectively treated.

How is PTSD treated?

The studies reviewed in this book indicated that multiple sessions of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), early on, is most effective means of treating PTSD.

CBT is a short-term therapy that focuses on the thoughts that perpetuate stress. CBT also trains individuals on how to cope with stress through the use of relaxation techniques and cognitive restructuring (changing negative thoughts to more positive self affirming beliefs). CBT is very problem specific. In terms of PTSD, CBT aims at neutralizing the thoughts that maintain fear and the persistent reexperience of the trauma. Unlike other therapies, it does not encourage clients to recount a long list of woes or explore past experiences.

The author found that a single session of CBT in the first few weeks following an accident is not an effective approach to dealing with traumatic stress, and may in fact be detrimental.

Interestingly supportive counseling and education had a negative effect on persons in the study that fared better without these interventions.

Participating in some form of treatment is an important part of recovering from PTSD. It is important to note that valuable time, energy and resources can be wasted on receiving ineffective treatment. Be sure to interview therapists prior to treatment to ensure they are skilled and familiar with specific CBT treatments that relieve PTSD. Current research often dates the training of both the medical and psychological field. Practitioners who are not privy to current research findings (as is always the case with TBI) may be of limited assistance.

Many of the people this blog intends to reach suffered TBI as a result of a car crash. It’s likely that some of you are experiencing PTSD. Stress is a normal and expected result to trauma. Naturally a person would avoid an intersection where they nearly died. Yet, after some time, if the recollection of that accident started to control daily life sleeping habits, the ability to work or attend school, the ability to sustain relationships – then treatment may be indicated.

Learning about PTSD caused by an accident is the first step in treating it. To find out more the following links are a good start:

The National Center for PTSD.

American Family Physician.

PTSD Support Services.

As always we value your comments and experiences. Please share if you or a loved one experienced traumatic stress after an accident and how they are coping with that stress.

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