GUELPH — The complexity of post-traumatic stress disorder is only beginning to emerge, and the Homewood Research Institute in Guelph aims to get a better understanding of the disorder and how best to treat it.
“There are many dimensions of this we’re still figuring out,” said Roy Cameron, the institute’s executive director. “There’s room to improve treatment, there’s room to better tailor treatment to individual needs.”
Homewood Research Institute is a charitable organization that partners with Homewood Health Centre, which provides mental health and addiction services.
“The purpose of our institute is to do very practical research that will improve care,” Cameron said.
The partnership is key, providing researchers at the institute with a “living research laboratory.” Measuring outcomes is also an essential part of its research to determine whether treatments are effective.
“It’s a very unique set of things that we’re doing,” Cameron said.
The focus was first on addiction, and now it is also looking at post-traumatic stress disorder among military veterans and first responders, including police, firefighters and paramedics.
Post-traumatic stress disorder doesn’t respond well to traditional treatments.
“We have to be innovative,” Cameron said.
Partly that’s related to the brain changes that are a result of chronic or acute exposure to stress, and addressing those changes must be considered to help a person fully recover.
“It’s not just something that affects their behaviour. It’s something that affects them physically,” Cameron said.
Different types of the disorder are also emerging, such as a dissociative subtype that causes people to experience a sense of unreality.
“Things just don’t feel authentic,” Cameron said.
For some, there’s a moral aspect. They feel guilt about what they couldn’t do, or not being able to help everyone. Researchers want to understand this “moral injury,” how it appears clinically and how to treat it.
Due to the disorder’s complexity, one approach to treatment won’t be effective.
One promising new treatment is using neurofeedback as a tool for people to calm themselves, since difficulty controlling emotions is a hallmark of the disorder.
“Emotions just get out of hand,” Cameron said.
Military and first responders “deal with situations on behalf of us that nobody should be exposed to,” he said.
The toll of untreated mental illness is huge on family, work and life satisfaction
“It’s very disruptive,” Cameron said.
An event is being held May 1 at Guelph’s River Run Centre to support the Homewood Research Institute. The one-woman play by actor and comedian Shelley Marshall called “Hold Mommy’s Cigarette” is autobiographical, drawing on her childhood in a dysfunctional home fraught with depression, trauma and suicide.