Dear Dr. Morris:
A nephew of mine recently was shaken up in an automobile accident but not seriously injured. He was treated for minor injuries in the emergency room and released; however, he is currently having nightmares and problems sleeping, and he says that at times he starts shaking when he is riding in a car. He even says it is hard for him to get his breath and he becomes dizzy. We are quite concerned about him because he has become depressed because of the things that are happening to him. He is simply not the same person and certainly not doing the kinds of things he used to enjoy doing. He spends most of the time at home and is afraid to travel by car from the home. Is this something that will pass or do we need to get help now?
Identity withheld by request
Your nephew’s symptoms are very similar to those of post traumatic stress disorder. This is a psychological condition, usually following a major stressor that could be interpreted as a threat to one’ s life, or loss of limb, serious injury to one’s physical self. It is a common occurrence during such traumas as war, natural disasters, airplane crashes, etc. It is also a disorder we see with greater frequency in individuals who have sustained injuries in an automobile accident. Usually, the accident is severe, but the individual does not have to be hospitalized to experience these symptoms.
My recommendation would be to get help now by contacting your family physician for a thorough medical evaluation. A neurological evaluation might be in order since your nephew may have sustained head injuries, which could be contributing to these episodes. Depending upon the outcome of the evaluation, psychological intervention may well be in order. If this is the case, please know that post traumatic stress disorder is treatable and the prognosis on most individuals is good.
Dr. Joe Edward Morris is a psychologist in private practice in Tupelo. He welcomes letters, which should be addressed to him at 1018 N. Gloster, Tupelo, Miss. 38801.