Car Accident Survivors Can Develop PTSD Up to a Year Later

When someone is involved in a car accident, we recommend seeking medical attention as soon as possible because those who think they are fine can develop pain in days or even weeks after the incident. While it is true for physical injuries, did you know that delayed onset post-traumatic stress disorder is also a risk after a crash? An individual with delayed onset PTSD feels as though they are "fine" after an accident, only to find that they’re suffering from the trauma of the accident months later.

According to researchers, delayed onset post-traumatic stress disorder can develop up to a year after the accident occurs. In fact, 1 in every 20 accident survivors develops this condition long after their incident.

In the study, roughly 8% of the 301 survivors tested were diagnosed with PTSD at three months. About 10% received a diagnosis of PTSD at 12 months. Of the patients who had PTSD a year following their accident, half of them developed it between 3 and 12 months after the crash.

Delayed onset PTSD is not frequently diagnosed in a clinical setting, so researchers don’t know why post-traumatic stress can be delayed. It may be that the symptoms are not considered enough to be diagnosed as PTSD (sub-clinical) or that the occurrence of additional stressors can increase the likelihood of developing PTSD over time.

The Importance of Seeking Early Treatment

Researchers have made another important discovery: the earlier after an incident a person seeks treatment, the better their recovery.

Whatever the reason for delayed onset PTSD, it’s important for accident survivors to seek help early and address any potential symptoms as soon as they can. Many survivors feel as though they are in the clear if they don’t develop PTSD immediately. This isn’t the case. Physical healing is much different than psychological healing, and taking action to get the help you need is vital for long-term recovery.

Understanding healthy coping strategies means you may be able to lessen the severity of the symptoms over time. Addressing symptoms early also allows family members and loved ones to help the survivor before they are officially diagnosed with PTSD.

Make sure you are taking the steps to recognize post-traumatic stress in yourself or your loved ones.

If you need help coping with the symptoms of PTSD, read our article about dealing with the daily effects of post-traumatic stress.


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