Psychological Trauma Suffered by Minors Involved in a Road Traffic Accident.

Very often the victims of road traffic accidents are very young and the effects of being involved in such an accident can have very different effects on them psychologically.

Usually when a child is involved in a road traffic accident he/she will be brought to the accident and emergency department of a hospital or to their parents general practitioner where they will be checked and treated for any physical injuries, which they may have sustained in the accident. However the psychological injuries that may have been sustained still go largely unnoticed or ignored.

This can lead to many Solicitors omitting to claim for the psychological damage caused by an accident even when it forms a head for damages in its own right.

This not only leads to a loss to the child but it can also have adverse effects in that the child’s parents may never be alerted to the fact that the child may be suffering from psychological problems. Instead the child’s behavior may merely have heretofore been observed as disruptive and/or antisocial.

Common Psychological Effects that accidents may have on children.

The psychological effects that a car accident may have on a child will vary according to their age, their experience of the accident as traumatic or life threatening, the physical injuries sustained and particularly the amount of scarring they may have received and the parents own reaction to the accident.

However the most common symptoms are sleep disturbance, bedwetting, mood swings, poor concentration, withdrawal, nervousness when traveling in a car and other behavioral difficulties. The most common psychological disorders found following a serious road accident are:

  • Anxiety disorders which would include separation anxiety, travel anxiety, acute stress disorder and post traumatic stress disorder
  • Adjustment disorder which would include mood and sleep disturbance, bedwetting, nightmares and general separation and travel anxiety
  • Depressive disorder which could include major depressive episode
  • Cognitive (organic) disorder which could be related to brain damage.

Up to 25% of children will experience and show a persistent level of symptoms. Sometimes these are serious enough to be classified as psychological or psychiatric disorders.

Morrison and Anders (1999) refer to two types of stress and adjustment disorders, which are as follows:

1. Acute Stress Disorder can arise from what the child perceives as having been involved in a life threatening situation or a situation, which it perceives as being life threatening to a parent or grandparent. This can lead to nightmares and bedwetting. The child will avoid stress related situations and become withdrawn. These symptoms disrupt home, social or school life and typically last up to or less than four weeks.

2. Adjustment Disorder is a common diagnosis, which recognizes the child as having significant difficulties. The chances of an inaccurate diagnosis are less likely. It normally manifests itself through emotional difficulties which have previously been described but which are more distressing than usual. The symptoms typically last up to six months after the accident.

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