Survivor's Guilt

Survivor’s Guilt: Teens in Motor Vehicle Crashes

A single car crash in North Carolina last month led to the death of the driver’s twin sister.

Another news report from the past month regarding a teen who had been killed in a single vehicle car crash the teen’s girl friend was quoted as saying:

“Cameron was drinking and we got into a fight. I told him to find another ride home. I said, ‘Get out of this car, you’re being disrespectful,'” Talia said, gasping between tears and raising her arms to the sky. “Why didn’t I drive him home?”

Survivor’s guilt, which is most often associated with victims of combat, can occur in anyone who has survived any type of trauma whether they were directly involved or not. The guilt from wishing they had done something different that may have averted the event can lead to long-lasting psychological problems. The most common form of psychological trauma resulting from survivor’s guilt is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which can result in life-long, debilitating problems for the victim. This is why high schools, who experience the death of one of their students, make extra counselors available to the student body immediately after the event.

If your teen has been involved in a crash in which someone died or was horribly injured or even if they were weren’t involved but were closely associated with the victim, you will need to help them through the grief process and you should be on the lookout for the warning signs of PTSD.

Grief – The grief process is something everyone who has experienced the loss of a friend or loved one must go through and it occurs in specific stages;

  1. Denial and Isolation.
  2. Anger.
  3. Bargaining.
  4. Depression.
  5. Acceptance.

Guiding your teen through all of the stages to acceptance, can be a long and painful process. If the guilt is left unresolved, it can lead to a multitude of psychological issues.

Don’t try to tell your teen how they should act or feel – No one can truly understand how a grieving person feels and trying to tell them their emotions are wrong or unhealthy can only compound the problem. Instead, sympathize and let him or her vent their feelings. Holding in or suppressing one’s feelings can be harmful.

Suggest that they express their grief in a creative way – One example of a creative expression of grief is the Facebook page mentioned in the first article of this newsletter. Writing a song or a poem, creating a memorial to the victim are all positive expressions of grief. Getting involved in programs to prevent future tragedies can give your teen some sense of control over events.

Watch for signs that your teen may be “numbing out”
– One common expression of grief is to try to suppress the feelings by turning to alcohol or drugs. This is an especially dangerous form of expression and can only make matters worse.

Withdrawing from friends and events – Your teen my stop engaging in their usual activities or back away from friendships. This part of the denial and isolation stage is designed to prevent any future relationships and thus, the chance of losing someone else that may be close to them. To make up for the lack of relationships, your teen may turn to alcohol or drugs or withdraw into video games. Their school performance may suffer.

Grief Triggers – There will be times when reminders of the loss of their friend will be especially acute; such as anniversaries of the event, birthdays, school proms, graduation. Be aware of these triggers and be prepared to help your teen through the grief process all over again.

Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk – Trying to put the past behind you by ignoring the fact that the event happened won’t make it go away. Talking through the issues is the best form of grief expression. Be there for your teen, allow them to talk it out and listen without judging.

Don’t be afraid to seek professional counseling – Unresolved, PTSD can lead to severe depression, paranoia, isolation, and drug dependence. If left unresolved, these issues can affect future generations. Be on the lookout for warning signs and understand that the issues may be too big for you to handle. Seek professional psychological help.