while a physical injury is obvious, often the psychological trauma of an injury is overlooked in children.

The Psychological Impact of Injury Accidents on Children

Car crashes, dog bites, and dangerous products and equipment are some of the common causes of physical injuries to children. And while a physical injury is obvious, often the psychological trauma of an injury is overlooked in children.

Adults and children alike can be affected mentally and emotionally by an accidental injury. “Adults have the self-awareness to acknowledge they are struggling and seek mental health treatment. Children, however, may lack the maturity or even the verbal skills to express they are hurting emotionally,” says attorney Catie Meehan, a partner at the Steinberg Law Firm.

In studies of child survivors of road crashes, researchers found that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was prevalent among survivors. In injured school-aged children and adolescents, the estimated occurrence of PTSD is between 12% and 46% in the first 4 months following a crash. The numbers remain high 4 to 12 months following a car wreck, estimated at between 13% and 25% of children. These numbers increase if a parent was also in the crash.

Symptoms of Psychological Trauma in Children Following an Accident

Most children recover emotionally from an accident within a month. However, some children suffer long term consequences. Common symptoms following a traumatic event such as an injury or severe accident can include:

  • Nightmares or sleep disturbance
  • Flashbacks or reliving the incident in their mind or in play
  • Bed wetting
  • Anxiety in general or when a situation arises such as being near a dog after a dog bite
  • Resistance to activities associated with the event, such as getting in a car seat
  • Anger or acting out
  • Regression in emotional or verbal abilities
  • Declining grades in school
  • Fatigue
  • Destructive behavior
  • Self-harm
  • Hyper vigilance
  • Denial the event happened
  • Lack of positive emotions, overcome with sadness

While this list is not exhaustive, it can provide insight into symptoms that may appear following an accidental injury or injury from an accident. Seeking early intervention with a mental health provider is important.

Therapy is Key to Recovery

For children old enough to benefit from talk therapy, finding a therapist who specializes in child trauma and who can create a safe space for the child, so the child is willing to talk about the incident, is key. For younger children or children who are not verbal yet, this can be a challenge.

A small child, such as an 18-month-old, may be unable to express what he or she is feeling but it does not mean the child is not suffering. Unfortunately, the incident and the emotional consequences can become a lifelong issue. Talk therapy is not an option for these children. Speaking with your child’s doctor for recommendations for his or her specific needs and symptoms may guide you to the proper provider.

Challenging Times

Meehan, a mom of two and a former pediatric R.N. at MUSC, observes, “In the Charleston, SC area, it has become very difficult to get in to see medical providers quickly following an accident. Wait times for a first appointment can range from weeks to months –even up to a year or more for specialists that accept certain insurance plans. Oftentimes, the only providers available immediately following a wreck are self-pay providers that do not accept insurance. This even further limits accessible treatment and results in some children not getting the help they need due to the expense.”

To ensure your child gets the help they need and to preserve the right to seek compensation for their physical as well as emotional injuries, be sure to:

  1. Get on a wait list. Or several.
  2. Call frequently to see if you can get in due to someone’s cancellation.
  3. See a provider even if it is not a good fit. You can continue to look for another provider but getting treatment as soon as symptoms occur prevents the insurance company from claiming there is a lapse in treatment or that it has been too long to be a result of the accident.

Peeling the Onion

Trauma may resurface years later as situations or age trigger the memory. It becomes like an onion, peeling away the layers of the trauma event. Some children may have fear and hesitation the rest of their lives. Developing resilience and coping skills can minimize the impact long-term.

If your child was injured in a severe accident and is experiencing emotional trauma as a result, our attorneys can help. We will make sure that your case is handled with compassion and perseverance, and work hard to secure the compensation you need to make your child whole.

Updated on November 28, 2022

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