Although the number of motor vehicle accidents (MVAs) per year seems to be declining, there are still a significant number of Canadians affected each year. Some of the most recent statistics available indicate that over 45,000 Ontarians are injured in MVAs each year (from drivers and motorcyclists to passengers, pedestrians and cyclists). While physical injuries are generally the most apparent and attended-to, emotional distress often follows as well, sometimes surpassing physical injuries in intensity and/or duration.

Experiencing emotional distress post-accident. If you have been involved in an MVA (or if your loved one has sustained major injuries or lost their life in one), you may be surprised by the emotions that well up during the aftermath. While your disturbed feelings may be fleeting and you may quickly return to your pre-accident level of contentment, they may also persist. Serious psychological disorders can also emerge or develop out of a precipitating event such as an accident (out of no fault of your own but due to the interaction of biological predisposition and stress), and going through an accident can exacerbate pre-existing psychological distress. You may have been coping sufficiently prior to your accident, and then you may be thrown off and overwhelmed when trying to cope afterwards. Accidents themselves can be emotionally-traumatic, and there can be many changes to the quality of your life after an accident (such as dealing with chronic pain, functional limitations, role changes in employment and relationships). Correspondingly, some fairly common post-accident diagnoses are Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD: distress related to having experienced the accident as a significant trauma), Adjustment Disorder (distress faced when trying to adjust to post-accident life changes), and Specific Phobia (such as driver, passenger, or pedestrian anxiety). Adjustment-related distress can also develop into Major Depression, an anxiety disorder, and/or a pain disorder (emotional symptoms related to the experience of physical pain). Thankfully, while distress may ensue, professional support is readily available to help you cope.

Seeking help for post-accident emotional distress. The first step in getting support post-accident is acknowledging your struggle, followed by reaching out to a psychologist or other regulated health professional. As I have previously written, remember that it is strong and brave to acknowledge your need for help and utilize the resources available to you. Your lawyer or insurance adjuster can help you understand the funding or benefits to which you are entitled, and help you find a licensed service provider. The process will likely start with a comprehensive psychological assessment which, in addition to determining any applicable diagnoses to justify requests for treatment funding, will help you understand the symptoms you are experiencing and engage you as an active participant in the development of a treatment plan to support your emotional recovery. While the projected length of treatment will vary on an individual basis (and may include complementary treatments such as family or couple’s therapy), an initial course of therapy will likely include around 15 sessions (after which progress assessment will help determine readiness for discharge or the necessity of continued treatment). At some point during your assessment and/or treatment process, the insurer may have you participate in assessment(s) with another provider (think of these as second-opinions to confirm the necessity of the proposed services). Although this could be experienced as frustrating, it can also be a validating experience to have multiple providers acknowledge the distress you’re experiencing and your need for related help.

Involvement in an MVA can cause more than just physical injuries, the psychological pain can be very real and overwhelming. If you are experiencing this or know someone who is, remember that help is available and therefore, healing is possible.