Home HealthTopics Health Centers Reference Library Research
Join us on Facebook Join us on Facebook Share on Facebook

Mental Health

Witness to a Horrific Accident

06/10/2010

Question:

I recently witnessed a horrible 5-vehicle traffic accident in which 2 people were killed. 1 of them was decapitated. I stopped and ran to the vehicle in which the fatalities occurred. It was obvious immediately that their injuries were incompatible with life.

Then I assisted other people who were less seriously injured and called 911. After the police and paramedics arrived and assisted the injured I had to wait another hour to give my witness statement to 2 different law enforcement agencies(one state and one county). After that I left and thought I would be okay if I could just get some sleep.

But ever since then I have been having nightmares and panic attacks. Is this normal?

My dr. gave me a prescription for Xanax but I am afraid to take them because I`m afraid of getting addicted, and also I have to drive several hours/day for my job and I`m afraid of being too under the infulence of prescription meds to be able to drive safely.

It is when I`m driving that I`ve been getting panic attacks. I feel like I can hardly breathe and I feel like I can see the mangled bodies of the deceased sitting in the seat right next to me. One time I actually stopped the car and ran from it before I realized my mind was playing tricks on me.

How long will these this last? Am I going completely crazy?

My brother said it sounds like PTSD, which he and other members of his unit had when they returned from Iraq.

Can a person get PTSD from witnissing a traffic accident?

Answer:

First, my admiration to you. You displayed great courage in the manner in which you demonstrated great interest in saving lives and at putting yourself at risk for psychological trauma.

Yes, an incident like this can lead to either Acute Stress Disorder on more chronically to PTSD. I do recommend that you see a psychiatrist to review your history and symptoms and consider the use of pharmacologic treatment if indicated. Some forms of psychotherapy, such as CBT may also be useful.

Thank you for your courage. I certainly hope that peace comes your way soon.

For more information:

Go to the Mental Health health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Stephen F Pariser, MD Stephen F Pariser, MD
Faculty Emeritus
Professor of Psychiatry
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University