Dear Dr. Archer,
My 16 year old daughter was involved in an automobile accident two weeks ago. She was the driver and all of her passengers were 15 year olds who aren't yet driving. A young man in the back seat who was allegedly chemically impaired -- which is why she was driving them home in the first place -- thought it would be funny to lean forward, grab and jerk the steering wheel.
She lost control of the SUV and it flipped several times. Luckily, no one was hurt which is the very best part of it all. My question is related to PTSD. I feel it is normal to have some acute PTSD symptoms at this point, as it has only been two weeks, but am wondering if I need to be proactive in getting her into counseling.
She is crying and is often angry. What got me to write you is that yesterday she flew off the handle over a very simple thing and her face looked so different and angry. I have never seen her like that; she is normally happy go lucky. Her expression actually frightened me! She tells me she keeps remembering how the cement road kept coming up to meet her and how she thought she was going to die.
She is very upset because all but ONE PASSENGER fled the scene of the accident. She is mostly upset at the boy who grabbed the wheel, as he is going around telling various stories at school such as "We ran because we thought y'all were dead." Or "You told us to run away," etc. No one believes this young man, but this is upsetting for her to hear.
The police report backs up everything my daughter has reported. As parents, we are handling things appropriately with the other children's parents, but as her mother, I am upset, too. My husband was out of state on business when it happened, so I had to go alone to the scene and saw my daughter being treated in the ambulance, with her hands all bloody, etc.
She then complained of abdominal pain and I had to see them strap her down to go to the ER. My mind shifted into autopilot, so luckily that helped me to stay focused for her. As mentioned, I think all is well with her physical health, but her anxiety worries me. There are some physical symptoms, too, of which I am uncertain. Is this physical or stress related?
My thoughts are to get her counseling, but would that exacerbate things? Any psychological opinion would be very helpful. Although I work in the counseling field, I am unable to be objective about my own child. Thank you!
After an accident, especially one so traumatic with the car doing multiple flips, it’s understandable that she has symptoms of PTSD, which include poor sleep, nightmares, anger, anxiety, mood swings and flashbacks.
The key to addressing this is treatment asap. Even though most people who go through PTSD symptoms recover on their own, for some it becomes chronic and that is what you want to avoid.
You may find additional information in the links within. Please don't hesitate; schedule counseling for your daughter now with an experienced PTSD therapist. Good luck!