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Is It Normal To Feel Depressed After A Car Accident?

Is It Normal To Feel Depressed After A Car Accident? What You Need To Know!

A car accident can be a traumatic event that leaves physical and mental scars on anyone involved. Even if you were not physically injured, or not injured severely, in the crash, you may still suffer mentally and psychologically. Is it normal to feel depressed after a car accident? Yes, one common symptom that many suffer from following an accident is depression. If you’ve been in a car accident and you are feeling depressed, know that you are not alone. In this article, we will explore how car accidents can affect you, the possible reasons for depression after an accident, the different types of depression, and provide you with some resources for help.

What Happens To Your Body And Brain After A Crash

When you are involved in a car crash you will likely experience a sudden jolt. This then triggers the release of adrenaline, cortisol, and other stress hormones. The release of these hormones can cause physical symptoms like increased heart rate, sweating, and rapid breathing. When the brain experiences trauma, you may experience emotional responses like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, or depression.

Teen Driver Involved In Car Accident

How Crashes Affect Your Body

When you are involved in a car crash, your body releases adrenaline, this is known as your body’s fight or flight response. “Typically, if we are startled or scared due to an event, our brains can switch from survival mode to restorative mode, eventually relaxing us,” note car accident lawyers at Harris & Harris Injury Lawyers, “if the event is traumatic enough, the brain doesn’t switch out of survival mode, causing the survivor to stay in that ‘fight or flight’ survival mode.”

The “flight or flight” mode causes your blood vessels and air passages to dilate, increasing the amount of blood flow to muscles and oxygen to the lungs to help boost your physical performance. This type of response essentially gives you quick spurts of energy so that you can react quickly in perceived life-or-death situations. Side effects of adrenaline may include:

  • Tunnel vision
  • Limited hearing
  • Feeling little to no pain
  • Heightened senses
  • Sudden energy boosts
  • Memory loss

After an adrenaline surge, you may feel almost the opposite of how you felt during the adrenaline dump. You may:

  • Feel weak or shaky
  • Faint
  • Feel intense emotion, often manifested as crying

Along with the fight or flight response in your body during a car crash, you may also experience very real, physical injuries. Because of the adrenaline rush at the time of the crash, you may not feel injuries right away, however, it is very important to always be checked out by a medical professional after you’ve been in any type of crash. Even with treatment, injuries may cause long-lasting chronic pain, but seeking medical care can help you understand and deal with the injuries and pain.

Some physical injuries victims may sustain from car crashes include:

  • Concussion
  • Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
  • Whiplash or other neck injuries
  • Internal Bleeding
  • Spinal injuries

Related Article: How To Get Over My Fear Of Driving

How Crashes Affect Your Brain

How Your Brain Reacts To An Accident

Car accidents are scary. Even if you are not physically hurt, your brain will still interpret the event as catastrophic so that you may respond to it accordingly. This can create mental trauma and may manifest in many different ways. After the accident, you may experience:

Mood Swings

Car accidents are traumatic events that can lead to a wide range of emotional responses, including mood swings. These mood swings can manifest as sudden feelings of sadness, anger, guilt, or grief, often triggered by a variety of stimuli that act as reminders of the incident. For instance:

  • Sounds: The honking of a horn, the screech of brakes, or even similar-sounding noises like a loud slam of a door can suddenly bring back the intense emotions felt during the accident.
  • Environment: Being in or near a car, driving past the accident scene, or even just sitting in traffic can recreate the stress and anxiety experienced during the accident, leading to mood swings.
  • Memories: Recollections of the accident, whether through thoughts, conversations, or dreams, can cause emotional upheaval. This can include replaying the event in one’s mind, which might lead to feelings of sadness or guilt, especially if the individual is dealing with the aftermath, such as injuries or loss.
  • Other Triggers: Items such as a damaged vehicle, personal belongings that were in the car at the time, or seeing reports of other accidents on the news can also trigger mood swings.

These emotional reactions are part of the body’s natural response to a traumatic event. It’s common for individuals to experience a rollercoaster of emotions after a car accident, and these feelings can be intense and unpredictable. These mood swings can be challenging not only for the individuals who experienced the accident but also for their loved ones who may find these sudden changes in mood difficult to understand and manage.

Learn how to deal with mood swings after a car accident by reading this article by the Anxiety & Depression Association.

Difficulty Sleeping/Insomnia

After an accident, your brain is flooded with neurochemicals to help you stay awake. However, this can disturb your sleep cycle making it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep, and you may experience bad dreams. You may also experience flashbacks and other troubling thoughts related to the accident while you are winding down at night, which can contribute to difficulty sleeping.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

You may experience symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder after your car crash. This may cause you to overthink situations, imagine worst-case scenarios, and feel as if you are in a constant state of worry or fear. This may cause you to not want to drive at all for a period of time due to anxiousness, or you may feel increased feelings of anxiety driving near the location the accident occurred.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD is an anxiety disorder that is often caused by a traumatic event involving actual or possible death or serious injury to yourself or others. You may experience one or all of the symptoms listed above if you have PTSD. Additionally, PTSD anxiety can manifest as:

  • Intrusive thoughts about the accident
  • Distressing dreams of the accident
  • Reluctance or refusal to drive again
  • Coping by avoiding thinking about the accident at all
  • Dissociation or feeling detached
  • Being easily startled
  • Panic attacks
  • Irritation
  • Trouble sleeping


Unfortunately, depression is not uncommon after motor vehicle accidents. Depression is a medical illness that can have effects on both your body and mind. This may be a result of the trauma and stress that many experience after an accident. Physical pain and disability, temporary or permanent, may also cause depression.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-occurring disorders are any combination of two or more mental health disorders experienced at the same time. After a car accident, co-occurring disorders crash victims may experience include:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • PTSD and anxiety
  • Depression and PTSD

Depression – What Is It & How Does It Play A Role In Car Accidents

Depressed Teen

In the aftermath of a car accident, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or empty. These could be signs of depression. In fact, depression is one of the most common mental health issues people experience that causes emotional distress. According to the American Psychiatric Association, depression is “a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think, and how you act.” Depression can cloud your judgment, making driving or even everyday decisions more challenging. As your focus wavers, the risk of being involved in another accident increases. In this section, we will discuss the different types of depression you might feel after a motor vehicle accident.

Types of Depression

Depression is a serious mental illness. There are several different types of depression that car accident victims may experience.

Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) –Major depressive disorder is characterized by feeling persistently depressed and experiencing long-term loss of pleasure or interest in life. It can affect how you think, feel, and act, and may lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems.

Persistent Depressive Disorder -Persistent depressive disorder is depression that lasts two years or more. This type of depression can be persistent, low-grade depression, or chronic major depression.

Bipolar Disorder/Manic Depression -Bipolar disorder, sometimes also called manic depression, is characterized by mood swing episodes that oscillate between extreme highs and extreme lows. The low mood phases can cause symptoms of depression. This type of depression can be heightened by a car accident if you’ve previously been diagnosed with it. However, a car accident may also cause bipolar disorder due to traumatic brain injury.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) -Seasonal affective disorder is a period of major depression one experiences, most often during the winter season.

Psychotic Depression -Psychotic depression is both major depression and the symptoms that come along with it, combined with “psychotic” symptoms like hallucinations, extreme delusions, and excessive paranoia.

Atypical Depression -Atypical depression is characterized by a specific pattern of depressive symptoms. With this type of depression, you may not experience the persistent sadness of major depression, and your mood may be temporarily improved by positive external factors.

Treatments for Depression

Trust Exposure For Driving Fears

Feeling down after a car accident is a natural human response. In the following section, we’ll explore treatments for depression specifically triggered by motor vehicle accidents. It’s important to understand that seeking support is a courageous move, and you’re not facing this journey alone. Your emotions are entirely valid, and we’re here to provide guidance.

Psychological Treatment

Your doctor may recommend therapy as a treatment for depression. In fact, there are several different treatments you may choose from to get help from mental health professionals.

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – This approach combines both cognitive and behavioral therapy to identify negative thought patterns and break these patterns bit by bit to help you feel better about yourself. It helps to change how you think and act.
  • Psychoanalytic Therapy – This type of therapy is based on the belief that unresolved, and unconscious conflicts can lead to depression. The goal is to identify and work through these issues by sharing personal stories and identifying unresolved issues that may be holding you back or causing some of your mental health issues.

There are also different types of therapeutic programs you may want to enroll in such as a residential treatment center. There, you would live for a period of time at a treatment center with others going through the same program as you.

You may also choose an outpatient program. This type of program is more like attending work or school, you attend for a few hours, and go home at the end of each day.


You may want to try medication in addition to therapy when treating depression. Your doctor or therapist may prescribe you antidepressants. Antidepressants can have a mood-lifting effect on you and can help to increase motivation. However, it may take time to see results.

Additionally, antidepressants can have undesirable side effects, ranging from dry mouth to weight gain, to thoughts of suicide. It is important to monitor your mood and how the medication is affecting you and communicate that with your doctor or therapist.

If a medication is not working for you, be sure to let someone know, if your prescription is left unchanged, it can worsen your symptoms and harm you more in the long run. If one medication doesn’t work well for you, you may be able to try a different one under the guidance of your doctor or mental health professional.

Focusing On Your Mental Health and Self-Care After A Car Accident

Visualization Practice - Meditation

After a car accident, prioritizing your mental well-being is as vital as addressing any physical injuries. The incident’s impact can extend far beyond the visible bruises, often touching the realms of your psychological state. It’s a period when self-care isn’t just beneficial; it’s necessary. Engage in activities that foster mental resilience, such as ensuring ample rest and seeking moments of tranquility in your day. Recognize that your emotions, like the physical damage to a vehicle, need time and attention to heal. By giving yourself permission to focus on mental recovery, you lay the groundwork for the journey ahead. It’s within this space of self-care that you can prepare to embrace further steps towards healing. Embracing self-care paves the way for a stronger recovery. Below are key strategies to help you maintain and reinforce your mental health as you navigate this challenging time.

  • Establish a Routine: Regain control by setting a daily schedule. Structure your day with regular meal times, exercise, and relaxation periods. Consistency is key to restoring a sense of normalcy and predictability, which can be comforting after the chaos of an accident.
  • Exercise Regularly: Physical activity releases endorphins, the body’s natural mood lifters. Aim for at least 30 minutes a day, even if it’s just a brisk walk. It helps reduce anxiety and improves sleep, countering depressive symptoms.
  • Balanced Diet: Nutrition affects mood. Incorporate foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, and antioxidants found in berries and leafy greens. These nutrients support brain health and may improve emotional balance.
  • Adequate Sleep: Sleep is restorative for the brain. Ensure you get 7-9 hours each night. Consider a bedtime routine to signal your body it’s time to wind down, like reading or listening to soft music.
  • Mindfulness and Meditation: These practices can anchor you in the present, reducing worries about the past or future. Spend a few minutes each day in quiet reflection or guided meditation to ease your mind.
  • Journaling: Writing can be therapeutic. Regularly jotting down your thoughts can provide an outlet for your emotions and help you track your recovery progress.
  • Social Support: Lean on friends and family. Share your feelings with trusted individuals. Feeling understood and supported can alleviate the weight of depression.
  • Professional Help: If you notice persistent signs of depression, consult a mental health professional. Therapists can offer strategies specifically tailored to your needs, aiding in a healthier mental recovery.

By following these proactive steps, you can build a resilient mindset that may reduce the risk of depression after the trauma of a car accident.

Resources For Depression After a Car Accident

If you are suffering from depression following an auto accident, please know that you are not alone. There is hope, and you can seek treatment. In addition to the resources listed below, be sure to contact your healthcare provider for a list of mental health care they may cover.

  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): SAMHSA offers a variety of services aimed at improving the quality and availability of substance abuse prevention, alcohol and drug addiction treatment, and mental health services. They provide a helpline that offers free, confidential assistance, as well as referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations.
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): NAMI provides support to individuals and families dealing with mental illness through education, advocacy, and public awareness activities. They also offer peer-led support groups and resources for mental health education.
  • Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA): ADAA focuses on the prevention, treatment, and cure of anxiety, depression, OCD, PTSD, and co-occurring disorders through education, practice, and research. They provide a comprehensive range of resources, including self-help tools, peer-to-peer forums, and find-a-therapist services.
  • 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline: This is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It’s a direct line for anyone to call when in need of immediate help.

Teen Practicing Driving


Who Can I Talk to About Depression From A Car Accident?

When you experience depression due to car accidents, you may want to talk to someone about it. Some people you can talk to include:

  • A Mental Health Professional, such as a Licensed Therapist: They are trained to understand the emotional aftermath of traumatic events and can offer professional guidance. Therapists can provide a safe space for you to express your feelings and work through your trauma with evidence-based therapies that may include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). Their expertise can also help in diagnosing any underlying mental health conditions that may have been triggered or worsened by the accident.
  • A Support Group: Connecting with others who have experienced similar traumas can be incredibly validating and reduce feelings of isolation. Support groups offer a sense of community and shared understanding that friends and family might not be able to provide. Here, you can learn from the experiences of others, share coping strategies, and express your emotions without fear of judgment.
  • Your Doctor: Doctors can be the first point of contact to discuss any health concerns, including mental health. They can perform an initial evaluation of your symptoms and provide referrals to mental health specialists if needed. Your doctor can also assess whether there are any physical health issues contributing to your depression, such as pain or medication side effects, and address those in conjunction with your mental health treatment.

How Likely Am I To Get In Another Car Accident?

Understanding your likelihood of being involved in another car accident can be quite unsettling, especially after you’ve already experienced one. While it’s impossible to predict future incidents with certainty, you can actively reduce your risk. The car insurance industry suggests that the average driver may file a collision claim roughly once every 18 years, but this is not a fixed destiny. By adopting safe driving practices, you can tilt the odds in your favor. Here’s how you can take charge:

  • Adhere to Speed Limits: Keeping within speed limits is not just abiding by the law—it’s about safety. Exceeding speed limits significantly elevates the risk of accidents, with the probability of fatality rising twofold for every 10 mph over 50 mph driven. Slow down, and give yourself ample time to react to unexpected road conditions.
  • Avoid Driving Under the Influence: Driving while impaired is a leading contributor to road incidents. Alcohol dulls your reflexes and impairs judgment. Remember, nearly one-third of all traffic-related deaths involve alcohol-impaired drivers. Always opt for a designated driver or an alternative form of transportation if you’ve been drinking.
  • Stay Focused on the Road: Distractions are a modern-day hazard in driving, with texting at the forefront. It’s not just about avoiding the use of your phone—being observant can help you anticipate and avoid the erratic behavior of others too. By staying alert, you’re not only keeping yourself safe but also protecting those around you.

Will My Insurance Cover My Therapy?

Many insurance companies offer some form of mental health coverage, however, there may be some that don’t. To find out if your insurance covers therapy, contact them directly. If your insurance does not cover therapy, you may be able to find an affordable alternative by contacting SAMHSA.

SAMHSA has a confidential, free national helpline that provides information, and referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations that may be able to help you.

Some images in this article were generated by AI

Joy Nguyen
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