If you are injured in an accident, one of the first things you will likely do is see your doctor to get treatment for your injuries. Physical injuries are often easy to see and might take the form of cuts, bruises or broken bones. By contrast, emotional or psychological injuries from an accident may not be so readily apparent and can sometimes take time to manifest.
A study published in 2018 found that individuals involved in car accidents are at increased risk for a variety of psychiatric disorders, and that post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) in particular can be a concern for people involved in motor vehicle accidents. Psychological injuries are considered by the courts to be just as serious as physical injuries. If found liable, the defendant will have to compensate you for both your physical and emotional pain and suffering.
In a previous blog post, Four Steps to Coping with Emotional Trauma, we discussed some steps that may help you with your emotional and psychological recovery after a car accident. Those efforts often go hand-in-hand with steps you will take to seek financial compensation.
Assessing Damages for Psychological Injuries
To recover damages for your emotional injuries, you will typically need a diagnosis from a qualified professional. This could include your doctor, psychologist, or psychiatrist. The damages you will be entitled to will depend on the nature of your emotional injuries and your recovery from those difficulties. As with physical injuries, you will be able to claim for the costs associated with the treatment of your emotional injuries and, if those injuries impact your ability to work, you may also have a claim for loss of income.
In Canada, psychological disorders are classified according to a manual called the DSM-V – the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition. This manual describes various mental health conditions and groups them into categories based on shared features. For each category, the DSM gives a list of symptoms and guidelines that health professionals will use to determine if you are suffering from that particular disorder.
Although every accident victim will suffer different and unique injuries, there are some emotional injuries that are more common than others. Several of these injuries are summarized below based on information provided by the American Psychiatric Association.
Depression is a condition that negatively affects how a person feels, thinks, and acts. Often, people who have been in an accident become depressed because they are mourning the perceived loss of the lifestyle that they had pre-accident. Symptoms of depression can include feelings of sadness, loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed, changes in appetite, trouble sleeping, loss of energy or increased fatigue, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, and thoughts of death or suicide. To be diagnosed with depression, a person’s symptoms must last at least two weeks and must represent a negative decline in their functioning.
Depression is very treatable. Common medical treatment includes therapy, medication, or both. Common recommendations to help reduce symptoms of depression include exercise, getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and avoiding alcohol.
Anxiety is essentially the feeling of being worried. It is a normal reaction to stress and most people will suffer from anxiety at some point in their lives. Some people who experience excessive anxiety may be diagnosed as having an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders can cause the sufferer to try to avoid situations that trigger or worsen their feelings of worry. This can lead to problems if the anxiety sufferer turns to avoiding their job, personal relationships, or normal activities of daily living. For a person to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety must be out of proportion to the individual’s situation and hinder their ability to function normally.
People who have been involved in car accidents may suffer from driving anxiety. Driving anxiety is a type of specific phobia which is defined as an excessive and persistent fear of a specific object, situation, or activity that is not typically harmful (in this case, driving or riding in a vehicle). The anxiety sufferer knows that their fear is out of proportion to the situation, but they are unable to overcome the fear. Sometimes, the fear causes such a high degree of distress that the person will go to extremes to avoid the activity.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a disorder that typically occurs in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. Those who suffer from PTSD can have intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings related to their experience that persist after the event has passed. Symptoms of PTSD can include intrusive thoughts, distressing dreams, vivid flashbacks, avoidance of people or places that remind them of the event, resistance to talking about the event, altered mood, feelings of detachment, irritability, anger, and problems concentrating or sleeping. For a clinical diagnosis of PTSD to be made, the symptoms must last for more than a month and cause significant distress or problems in the person’s functionality.
PTSD is typically treated with therapy, medication, or a combination of both.
Adjustment disorder is a mental health response to a stressful life event. The emotional reaction and symptoms that the person experiences in response to the stressful event are more severe or intense than what might reasonably be expected for the type of event that occurred. Possible symptoms of adjustment disorder can include feeling tense or hopeless, withdrawing from other people, and impulsive behaviors. Sometimes, the sufferer can experience physical reactions such as headaches, palpitations, and tremors. The symptoms of adjustment disorder can cause significant distress or a loss of functionality in key areas of the person’s life.
Somatic Symptom Disorder
If a person who has been in an accident develops a significant focus on their physical symptoms and pain, to the level that it causes them major distress or problems functioning, they may be diagnosed with a somatic symptom disorder. These people are pain-focused and have excessive thoughts, feelings, or behaviors related to their physical symptoms. The person’s physical symptoms may or may not be associated with any diagnosed medical condition, but the person does have symptoms and truly believes they are ill. To be diagnosed with a somatic symptom disorder the person must have one or more physical symptoms that are disrupting their daily life including excessive thoughts related to their physical symptoms with ongoing thoughts out of proportion to the seriousness of their symptoms, ongoing high levels of anxiety about their health or symptoms, and spending excessive time or energy on their symptoms. Treatment for somatic symptom disorders can include talk therapy or medication or a combination of both.
Mental and emotional pain is just as real as physical pain. If you have been in an accident and are suffering emotionally because of it, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact our experienced team at CAM LLP for your free consultation.
Source: American Psychiatric Association (https://www.psychiatry.org/)