Combat duty, peacekeeping missions and other traumatic situations have exacted a huge toll on members of the Canadian Armed Forces and veterans, and the number of individuals suffering from operational stress injuries is significant.
For many years, the typical approach to military research in Canada has focused on population health issues, looking at numbers and trends related to mental illness, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
While this epidemiological research has been useful in helpful to understand the scope of the problem, clinical research that focuses on improving patient outcomes on an individual basis is also critically needed.
By better understanding the symptoms of individuals with PTSD and other operational stress injuries – and how those symptoms are linked to changes in brain function – dedicated research can help to develop more targeted, individualized treatments, which could save patients both time and significant suffering.
“While it’s important to understand the numbers [of military populations with PTSD], it’s even more important to understand the individual, so we can provide the patient-centered care they need. If we can understand the individual differences for those suffering from PTSD, we won’t need to use a trial and error approach to treating their illness, which is how PTSD patients are treated now. Our goal is to guide clinical treatment [through research] so we can improve patient outcomes.”
- Colonel Rakesh Jetly
The Royal has created a hub of excellence for military mental health, where military, veteran and civilian leaders from across Canada and internationally are asking important research questions, accessing evidence, and helping to inform and provide better treatment options for patients suffering from PTSD.
As the Canadian Forces Brigadier Jonathan C. Meakins, CBE, RCAMC Chair in Military Mental Health, Colonel Rakesh Jetly works closely with leading-edge researchers and clinicians at the IMHR to conduct ground-breaking research and transform novel discoveries into improved clinical care for soldiers suffering from debilitating psychological injuries.
Home to the only PET/MRI machine in Canada dedicated to mental health and neuroscience research, The Royal’s Brain Imaging Centre is key to unlocking the secrets of the brain and making research discoveries that can better inform and improve treatment for patients with PTSD.
Dr. Clifford Cassidy, an expert in translational neuroscience, psychiatry and brain imaging is harnessing this advanced brain imaging technology, for instance, to try to find a brain ‘marker’ that can help tailor treatments to individuals or objectively identify early on in the course of treatment, if someone is beginning to respond to it or not.
The longer term implications of the research being conducted by the Military Mental Health Research Unit will not only address relevant issues to veteran and military populations, but will also inform treatment for other populations suffering from PTSD, such as first responders and victims of accidents or violence.