Psychological Responses to Injury

March 18, 2021 | Attorney, Matthew Dolman
Psychological Responses to Injury If you were the victim of an accident or were injured by an intentional act, we don't need to tell you that physical wounds often leave emotional scars. What we can tell you, however, is that you can often pursue compensation for psychological conditions caused by an injury, just as you can for physical conditions. Read on for more information about the common psychological responses to injury, and the help that is available in this type of situation.

What Are Common Psychological Responses to Injury?

A psychological response is the body's natural reaction to a stimulus. Many things can produce positive psychological responses, including seeing an old friend, holding a baby, or spending time doing an activity you enjoy. However, many situations prompt an unhealthy psychological response, such as:
  • Motor vehicle accidents, particularly if the individual who is suffering the psychological response was injured in the accident or witnessed someone else get injured or killed.
  • Injuries suffered in combat-related situations, including transportation accidents during combat service, explosive blasts, and gunfire.
  • Premises liability accidents, where someone has been injured as the result of a slip and fall or a hazardous property feature, or has become the victim of a violent crime due to a property owner's failure to provide adequate security.
  • An individual who was sexually abused by clergy or another person in a position of trust.
  • A medical error that resulted in the worsening of a known medical condition or a new injury.
  • A resident of a nursing home who has suffered neglect or abuse at the hands of the facility staff.
  • Severe burns or other serious injuries sustained as a result of a defective product, such as a defective auto part or appliance.
There is no way to tell who is going to experience a negative psychological response to trauma, nor is there a completely determined reason why some people will suffer a more extreme psychological response to trauma than others will. It is believed that the severity of the psychological response is often dependent on the individual's past or biological history of psychological disorders, other stressors he or she may be experiencing in life, and the amount and type of trauma he or she experienced before the most recent traumatic event. The psychological responses commonly associated with injuries sustained in the above situations can include:
  • Anger, moodiness, or irritability.
  • Obsessive behavior.
  • Crying easily.
  • Denial about the traumatic situation or one's difficulty handling the emotions caused by it.
  • Disinterest in activities that were previously enjoyed.
  • Emotional numbness.
  • Forgetfulness.
  • Grief.
  • Guilt.
  • Increased isolation or withdrawal from others.
  • An increased dependency on alcohol or other psychoactive drugs to function.
  • Sleep disturbances, including nightmares, sleeping too much, or the inability to sleep.
  • Questioning one's faith or religion.
Psychological injuries often require treatment just as physical injuries do. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms following a traumatic injury, it is important to understand that the sooner you seek help for your psychological response, the better. Suicide is a risk for individuals with psychological conditions. If you have thoughts of suicide or dramatic changes in how you think and feel, seek help right away.

Psychological Conditions Linked to Trauma

Experiencing physical or emotional trauma places an individual at risk for psychological disorders, including:
  • Anxiety disorders: Including generalized anxiety disorder, which causes the sufferer to experience excessive worry or tension for little to no reason; panic disorder, which is defined by the feeling of sudden, intense fear; social anxiety disorder, which causes the sufferer to feel overwhelming self-consciousness or worry in social situations; agoraphobia, which is an intense fear of being unable to escape or get help if needed; separation anxiety, which involves feeling unnatural feel when someone you're close to leaves your sight.
  • Depression: A mental health disorder that is characterized by persistently negative thoughts and feelings and a loss of interest in activities. It is believed that clinical depression is caused by a combination of family mental health history, as well as psychological and social sources of distress, such as an extremely painful injury or another traumatic event.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition that is triggered by either experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. Symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the traumatic experience. Suicide is the biggest risk for individuals suffering from PTSD, but other risks can include psychological disorders such as anxiety or depression, drug or alcohol misuse, and other difficulties.
  • Substance abuse: Substance abuse is the excessive use of psychoactive drugs such as alcohol, pain medication, or illegal drugs that can lead to physical dependence on the drug, increased risk of accidental injury, as well as social and emotional harm.
  • Borderline personality disorder: Borderline personality disorder is a mental health condition that is characterized by self-image issues, difficulty managing emotions or behavior, and a pattern of unhealthy relationships. This condition presents symptoms that include an intense fear of abandonment and instability, as well as difficulty tolerating being alone, mood swings, inappropriate anger, and impulsiveness.

Memory Loss and Trauma

One common negative psychological response to trauma is the loss of memory. The reason why suffering a traumatic injury can result in memory loss, even if the injury did not involve the brain, is because of the three stages involved in the process of remembering:
  • Encoding, which is when new information is added and embedded in your memory.
  • Storage, which involves retaining the encoded information.
  • Retrieval, which involves accessing and recalling the encoded information as needed.
Generally, when an individual is experiencing a traumatic experience, the information that is encoded first is the central experience of the immediate trauma. The brain is so overwhelmed with processing the trauma that other details such as when and where the trauma took place are not encoded and therefore not available later for recall.

How Are Psychological Conditions Caused by Trauma Treated?

If you are coping with a psychological condition as the result of an injury you suffered as a result of someone else's reckless, careless, or intentional act, it can feel as though there is nothing that can help you get past the trauma you experienced. However, many individuals have found relief from psychological conditions caused by trauma through a combination of therapy, medication, and family support.


Psychotherapy, also commonly known as talk therapy, is provided by a mental health provider. Therapy after trauma focuses on three main goals:
  • Improving the psychological response symptoms.
  • Teaching skills to cope with situations that trigger your psychological condition.
  • Restoring the self-esteem you lost while dealing with negative psychological response symptoms.
Most forms of therapy used to treat negative psychological responses to trauma involve cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) which focuses on changing thought patterns that are negatively impacting your life.


Many of the same medications used to treat psychological disorders such as anxiety and depression can also be prescribed to treat psychological responses to trauma. In individuals who have experienced trauma, the balance of the neurotransmitters that control emotions has been disrupted. Because of this, the individual's instinctual “fight or flight” response is triggered. Medications can help restore the balance of neurotransmitters so that the individual can sleep without nightmares, stop obsessing over the trauma, or feel more “normal” again.

Family Support

The psychological ramifications of trauma aren't reserved solely for the individual who suffered the injury. Often family members suffer as well from feelings of failure at being unable to “fix” their loved one, the time and emotional toll of having a loved one who is afraid to be left alone, and other impacts caused by the injury. However, just as the family of the injured individual is impacted by the psychological response to the injury, family support is also one of the most important factors needed to heal from psychological trauma. Families can provide support to an individual traumatized by an injury by:
  • Encouraging their loved ones to get out for activities or time with family members, but to do so at their own pace. Consider lower impact events, such as going to a small gathering at a friend or neighbor's house as opposed to a busy event at a crowded restaurant.
  • Offering to attend doctors appointments or other important meetings to assist their loved one in remembering the details of the conversation, or to provide company for an individual who is afraid to be alone.
  • Learning about their loved one's psychological condition, including understanding the factors that are triggers for negative psychological responses.
  • Creating a crisis plan together with their loved one so that everyone is aware of how to respond in the event of a nightmare or a panic attack.
  • Helping with household tasks such as laundry, cooking, or caring for the individual's children. Many individuals dealing with depression struggle with fatigue and need help with completing day-to-day tasks.
  • Checking in with their loved ones often to ensure that they are all right and are complying with the provisions of therapy.

Obtaining Compensation After Trauma

Psychological Injury LawyersSuffering a psychological response to trauma is not only disturbing and harmful to one's self-esteem, it affects every facet of an individual's life, including their ability to work, maintain relationships, and keep up with the responsibilities of life. Fortunately, courts recognize that not all injuries suffered in an accident or by an intentional act are physical. In addition to being permitted to obtain compensation from a liable party for medical and other expenses caused by the injury, individuals can also pursue compensation for the psychological impacts of their injury through a personal injury lawsuit. A personal injury lawsuit is a legal claim filed in civil court that seeks to prove liability for the accident or event that caused the injury that resulted in psychological trauma. Liability is proven by showing the following elements in your case:
  • The at-fault party owed you a duty of care. The term “duty of care” generally refers to the way that a reasonable person would react in similar circumstances. For example, the duty of care that a driver would owe to others on the roadway would be to operate his or her motor vehicle safely and legally. The duty of care that a property owner would have toward his or her guests would be to ensure that the property is free from hazards that could result in injury.
  • There was a breach in the duty of care. The breach is the action (or inaction) that the at-fault party took that was contrary to the duty of care that was owed.
  • The breach resulted in the accident or incident that resulted in your injury and caused you to suffer economic expenses and impacts to your quality of life.
When it comes time to seek compensation after being injured in an accident, many individuals are reluctant to speak with an attorney because they don't think they can afford to hire one. However, most personal injury attorneys offer two special services focused on providing attorney assistance to anyone who needs it, regardless of their ability to pay. Those services include:
  • A free case evaluation, which is time with an attorney when you can learn more about the firm, obtain answers to your legal questions, and obtain guidance as to the legal options that are available to you.
  • A contingent-fee payment arrangement, which means that you do not have to pay for your attorney's services until there has been a successful outcome in your case.
In any event, never underestimate the psychological complications that can occur following a serious injury or similarly traumatic event. By working closely with health professionals, family and friends you trust, and an experienced personal injury lawyer, you can maximize your odds of a successful recovery and a return to a normal, satisfying life. Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA 800 North Belcher Road Clearwater, FL 33765 (866) 659-5072


Matthew Dolman

Personal Injury Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has successfully fought for more than 11,000 injured clients and acted as lead counsel in more than 1,000 lawsuits. Always on the cutting edge of personal injury law, Matt is actively engaged in complex legal matters, including Suboxone, AFFF, and Ozempic lawsuits.  Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess of $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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