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Compr Psychiatry. 1998 May-Jun;39(3):111-21.

Psychiatric morbidity following motor vehicle accidents: a review of methodological issues.

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Teaching Unit, School of Psychiatry, University of New South Wales, Liverpool Hospital, Australia.


Motor vehicle accidents (MVAs), even those of a nonserious nature, appear to increase the risk of severe psychiatric morbidity in survivors. The present review examines the evidence indicating the levels of psychiatric morbidity in MVA survivors. Although no consistent profile has emerged, the most commonly reported symptoms are depression, anxiety, irritability, driving phobia, anger, sleep disturbances, and headache, with rates of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) across studies of 0% to 100%. Variability in the type and severity of psychiatric outcomes may be due, in part, to methodological inadequacies in many studies, particularly the use of biased population samples, inclusion of subjects exposed to varied types of accidents, an absence of a clear definition of PTSD, a reliance on clinical judgment rather than the use of objective psychometric measures, the failure to include ratings of injury severity, and the absence of assessments for past exposure to traumatic events or preexisting posttraumatic reactions. The most important concern relates to the use of nonrepresentative samples, usually patients referred for medicolegal assessment in whom issues of compensation are of central importance. Gender and age differences distinguish the compensation group from the general population of MVA survivors, who therefore may also differ in the vulnerability to posttraumatic morbidity. It is argued that more systematic research on unselected subject samples is critical to establish epidemiological data on the true nature and extent of psychiatric morbidity following MVAs.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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