Psychiatry professor Dr. Ruth Lanius sees hope for the seemingly countless numbers of military personnel and veterans looking to move past their symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“Even though there’s a lot of suffering related to psychological trauma, there’s hope,” she explained. “As we understand more about what happens to brain, mind and body as a result of the effects of chronic inescapable stress, we will continue to improve the healing of this often-devastating disorder.”
For her work, Lanius was recently honoured with the Banting Award for Military Health Research, presented annually by the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research (CIMVHR) Forum to a researcher addressing military health issues.
“A lot of the patients I see – both clinically and in terms of research – are patients who have tried a lot of treatment without success. This is what our group really specializes in – seeing patients who haven’t benefited from some of the treatments we have and figuring out novel adjunct treatments for PTSD guided by the brain abnormalities that we see.
“People receive feedback about their brain waves and we specifically teach them to re-regulate them in a certain way that we understand to be beneficial for post-traumatic stress.”
Understanding the causes and potential treatments of PTSD has come a long way since the days when veterans’ trauma was stigmatized as ‘shell shock’ and not treated as a medical issue.
Now, she said, the term has expanded to include both extreme fear response and moral injury – feelings of guilt and shame that some military, first responders and others may experience.
“I’ll never forget one of the military veterans saying to me, ‘You know, Ruth, I cannot look anyone in the eye for fear that they will see the stain on my soul,’” she recalled. That veteran returned to health as they reframed their response to trauma as attributes of a leader and human being.
Lanius works with military personnel as well as first responders and civilians and will soon expand the research to include the experiences of Indigenous People.
The award she has received is named after Sir Frederick Banting, the world-renowned physician and Nobel Prize researcher who discovered insulin.
She was presented with the Major Sir Frederick Banting, MC, RCAMC Medal by the Surgeon General and is invited to be the research keynote speaker at the CIMVHR 2020 Forum.