A Guide for Coping with Psychological Trauma
in the Immediate Aftermath

If you have unintentionally killed or injured someone within the last few days or weeks, you may be feeling very upset. This page provides some practical tips for coping in the immediate aftermath. Many CADIs (Caused Accidental Death or Injury) in this situation experience some symptoms which, although troubling, are usually temporary. Some examples include the following:

  • Upsetting memories, images, or flashbacks that intrude on your attention and daily activities
  • Nightmares and/or difficulty sleeping
  • A sense of being in a daze, spaced out, or seeing yourself from far away
  • Avoiding thoughts about the accident, or avoiding anything that reminds you of the accident
  • Difficulty remembering aspects of the accident
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling sad, depressed, guilty, or irritable
  • Feeling numb or unable to access your emotions
  • Having difficulty “moving on” with life, such as getting back to your daily routine.

If these symptoms are severe or add to your distress, you may want to consult a psychotherapist or counselor for help. If these or other symptoms persist beyond 30 days, psychotherapy is recommended. Here are some simple steps you can take to help you cope:

  • Drink lots of water and eat healthful meals.
  • Avoid using alcohol or non-prescription drugs to “take the edge off.”
  • Ask a trusted friend or family member to stay with you, so you do not have to be alone.
  • Ask friends or family members to help with tasks of everyday living, such as picking up or dropping off your children, contacting your supervisor at work, running errands, grocery shopping, or babysitting.
  • If you usually exercise, you should try to continue your work outs. If you do not usually exercise, try taking a brisk walk.
  • Consider spending some time in nature – at a park, beach, mountains, or a backyard garden. A natural setting can be calming.
  • Consider removing yourself from social media for a while, and/or asking a friend or family member to screen social media and mainstream media for you.

Other considerations:

  • This is not a time to make major decisions. Keep in mind that stress and trauma can interfere with clear thinking and decision-making.
  • At the same time, remember that you are the best judge of your own needs.
  • Inform your insurance company as soon as you can about the accident.
  • Consider retaining an attorney.

If you are in crisis and need immediate attention (in the USA):

  • Go to a local emergency room or call 911
  • Contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline  or call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)
  • You can also contact a community mental health agency and tell them you are in crisis. Some may be able to see you on short notice.

Everyone responds differently to serious accidents, because we all have different personalities, backgrounds, and physiological responses to stress. Distress and disruption are common, but the vast majority of people in this situation feel better over time. Accept support from family and friends and consider psychotherapy or counseling for assistance in coping with this trauma.


Your friend or relative unintentionally killed or seriously injured someone in an accident. Many people feel traumatized by such accidents. They may be distressed and unable resume their daily routines. During this time of crisis, your support is vital. Here are some do’s and don’ts for the immediate aftermath — the first few days and weeks after the event.

  • Listen with compassion, if your friend or relative wants to talk.
  • Offer to keep your friend or relative company if they do not want to be alone. Sometimes a quiet presence is very helpful.
  • Offer to help with everyday tasks and errands including transportation, childcare, meal preparation, etc.
  • Offer to help undertake tasks related to the accident, such as contacting the insurance company or finding referrals to psychotherapists, doctors, or attorneys.
  • With permission from your friend or relative, contact his or her employer.
  • With permission from your friend or relative, inform other friends, relatives and neighbors about what has occurred and, if necessary, coordinate support.
  • Scan newspapers, television news, and social media so that your friend or relative does not get blindsided by media coverage or posts on Facebook, Twitter and so forth.
  • Remind your friend or relative that flashbacks, intrusive memories, difficulty concentrating or remembering, emotional swings, insomnia, feeling dazed or “out of it,” and other such symptoms are common responses to severe trauma.
  • Recommend psychotherapy if their symptoms are severe or if they are still experiencing symptoms after 30 days. Similarly, psychotherapy or counseling may be helpful if your friend or relative is abusing alcohol or drugs to help them cope.
  • Remind your friend or relative that you support them and believe in their ability to cope and recover. Remind them of their many strengths and capabilities.
  • Ask your friend or family member what they need, and seek their approval before making decisions or taking actions that affect them.
  • Take care of yourself. You may also be feeling upset, frightened or even traumatized by this situation.


  • Do not push your friend or relative to talk about the accident if he or she does not want to.
  • Do not push your friend or relative to drive or take other steps that they do not feel ready for, even if you believe such steps would be helpful. If your friend or relative is unable to resume most daily activities after three or four weeks, counseling or psychotherapy is indicated.
  • Do not offer drugs or alcohol to help your friend or relative feel better or relax.
  • Do not tell others about the accident without permission from your friend or relative.
  • Do not discuss the accident with others over social media. Keep in mind that your posts could be used in unexpected ways, especially if there is criminal or civil legal action.
  • Because people who have experienced a traumatic event need to re-gain a sense of control and agency, be careful about offering too much advice or taking over. Encourage your friend or relative to make decisions and choices.
  • Do not hold back from expressing your love and support.

If your friend or family member appears suicidal or in crisis: