If you and your family have been injured in a car accident that was not your fault, your lives have probably been turned upside down. Medical appointments, paperwork, physical therapy, phone calls to and from your insurance company--all of these may have you wondering what day it even is anymore.
The first few months after a traumatic event are highly upsetting. Understandably, serious physical injuries are probably the most obvious objects of your attention right now, but it is just as critical to monitor your children's emotional health at such a difficult time. Depression in children is common after a car accident, but early intervention by a clinical professional can help prevent it from spiraling out of control.
In 2013, there were 127,250 children injured in motor vehicle accidents. Because 15-25% of children develop depression after car accidents, this means that, roughly, between 19,000 and 32,000 children suffered emotional trauma as a result of their experiences in that year alone. Therefore, it is essential to watch your children's emotional health as closely as you do their physical well being.
Children experience depression differently than adults because of their limited understanding of emotional health. Whereas you might recognize a consistently sad mood as a warning sign that needs professional attention, a child simply believes sad feelings are now part of normal life; therefore, he/she is less likely to express depressed feelings to others than an adult would under similar circumstances.
Depression in children includes some commonalities with adult depression such as loss of interest in things that used to bring pleasure, feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, appetite and weight changes, and withdrawal from social activities. However, watch for the following symptoms that signal depression in children under 18:
- Excessive clinginess
- Outbursts of anger/aggression
- Extreme sensitivity to criticism
- Risk-taking behavior
- Vague or unfounded physical complaints (such as headaches or stomachaches)
- Drop in grades
If you notice these symptoms of depression in one or more of your children after a car accident, of course you should talk to the pediatrician about a psychotherapy consultation. However, experts advise that you schedule an appointment for your children whether they are displaying signs of depression or not. Why?
A European study has found that children who go to at least one visit with a counseling professional after a traumatic event, such as a car accident, are less likely to develop depression than those who don't. Therefore, even if you do not yet notice problematic emotional signs in your children, have them go to at least one therapy appointment. This gives them the opportunity to discuss their experiences of the accident with someone who won't (like parents, family members, and friends) cry or react with upset feelings to what they have to say. It is best to schedule this about ten days after the accident, if possible, but to make it available to them at any time is also helpful.
Of course, if you are pursuing compensation for the injuries you and your family suffered as a result of your accident, make sure to keep your attorney informed about any psychotherapy appointments. Emotional suffering does qualify for monetary awards in a damage settlement, and your car accident lawyer will advise you about supporting documents needed for such a claim.
A car accident turns your life--and the lives of your family members--upside down. Even in the chaotic happenings that fill your days in the wake of such an event, be alert for the psychological toll it is taking on your children. An ounce of prevention--in the form of a post-event counseling appointment--just may well be worth a pound of cure.