It is unfortunate but common that motor vehicle accidents leave both psychological and physical effects on its victims. In fact, auto accidents are the leading cause of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the U.S. Although the exact probability of a patient suffering from PTSD after an accident is disputed, it is certainly significant – studies estimate that this figure ranges from 10 to 45 percent. Considering that the majority of the population is involved in some type of motor accident during their lifetimes, it is no wonder that PTSD is becoming a serious health issue.
Although it is normal to experience some psychological distress after an accident, PTSD patients are so distressed that their day-to-day functions are disturbed for long periods. Their symptoms include intrusive recollections of the event, recurring dreams, an inability to recall significant parts of the event, driving phobia, difficulty sleeping, and difficulty focusing, among others. One key aspect is that the symptoms are debilitating for longer than a month. The trickiest part about the diagnosis is that the symptoms may not become apparent until long after the accident.
So what kind of questions would help you identify a patient with PTSD? There are essentially three basic questions you can ask:
- When you realized the accident was going to happen, what did you think was going to happen to you?
- Do you have flashbacks or nightmares?
- Have you had any trouble driving/travelling since the accident?
These questions will allow your patient to share how he or she has felt psychologically and emotionally about the accident. You could also follow up with a more general question, such as “What has happened with you since the accident?” If you suspect that your patient could be experiencing PTSD, you can refer him or her to a specialized therapist such as a cognitive behavioural therapist. Although PTSD is a common and distressing disorder, once awareness about PTSD has spread to health practitioners like you, patients can be identified earlier and our population will benefit from better mental health.