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New research and treatments

News, Research

The aim for the Anzac Centre, and particularly our research program, is to do whatever we can to find evidence for improved clinical practice and to get that message out to the greater practising community” – Professor David Forbes, Director of Phoenix Australia

The Treatment Research Collaboration at the Anzac Centre carries out new research into posttraumatic stress disorder and complex military-related mental health issues. Our work provides a better understanding of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and tests the effectiveness of new psychological, social and neurobiological treatments. Early intervention to reduce the cumulative impact of PTSD and related disorders is also pivotal to our work.

Flexibility in research

Dr Mark Hinton, Director of the Treatment Research Collaboration, says the centre’s research framework is a ‘live’ document, with flexibility to respond to emerging issues.

Current trials include a randomised controlled pilot trial to find out if undertaking an innovative cognitive intervention improves outcomes for veterans undertaking standard treatment for PTSD. A second study is looking at the cognitive and emotional processes across different mental health disorders for Australian veterans.

“At the moment, the outcomes in treatment for veterans and across psychiatry more broadly for people with mental health problems are very ordinary. So, every time we find something that can give us an advantage and offer small improvements, we grab it and try to get it into clinical practice as quickly as possible,” Mark explains.

“We’ve known for hundreds of years that people are affected by trauma and that it has a significant impact on their world view, to the point where it makes them ill and compromises their function. But we’ve never really known what is at the core of those changes, so treatments lag behind.”

Removing stigma

Stigma also complicates mental health issues and can prevent veterans from seeking the help they need.

“Veterans are largely men and their culture from day dot is about managing stress and disability – it’s about tolerating discomfort and distress,” explains Mark.

“But the longer you wait to seek help, the worse you get and the less chance there is of a full recovery. You have a group who pride themselves on tolerating the intolerable, but with trauma and mental health problems, that’s the last thing you should do.”

The Treatment Research Collaboration is looking at using technologies, such as apps and the internet, as an adjunct to treatment. These technologies may be particularly useful to support those in rural and remote settings and improve access to treatment and interventions on a day-to-day basis.

A holistic perspective

“We also have an interest in the crossover between physical health and mental health,” says Mark.

“A lot of people present to practitioners with ailments and chronic pain from an ankle or lower back problem, which detracts from the sense of power and control they’ve been used to having in the military. That impacts on their mental health. Similarly, being in the military can chronically disturb sleep – if you have trauma and nightmares, then sleep becomes something you avoid, and that impacts on mental health, resilience and the ability to cope.”

What’s next?

Mark hopes more clinicians will get involved in research to help improve treatments and mental health outcomes for veterans.

“If you have a good idea, turn it into a protocol for us. What’s the question, what’s the background to that question, and how do you think we should research it?” he says.

“We want to move treatments along because outcomes for veterans are not great. Currently a significant number of people with PTSD don’t respond well to treatment and that is not the best outcome. Our work is to discover how we can do better.”

Are you currently involved with a study that could be included on our Research Map? Please contact The Centenary of Anzac Centre Treatment Research Collaboration for more information.