Episode available within Canada only.

From Hollywood blockbusters to front-page stories, the image of the tormented veteran unable to transition from war zone to home front is everywhere.

But the focus on the military’s struggle with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) obscures a simple reality: PTSD hits more civilians than soldiers, and more women than men. And it manifests with a dizzying range of symptoms, from flashbacks, nightmares and aggression to depression, numbness and avoidance.

Couple standing on bridge over a highwayStan Fisher and Ute Lawrence survived a horrific car accident.

Take Stan Fisher and Ute Lawrence, who survived one of the deadliest multi-car accident in Canadian history. They were driving on a stretch of the 401 highway known as Carnage Alley, east of Windsor. In total, 87 vehicles were involved in crash. Eight people were killed.

Ute and Stan walked away from the horrific scene with a few scratches, but scars surfaced in other ways. And while they had both undergone the same traumatic event, the symptoms of PTSD they displayed were markedly different.

Dr. Ruth Lanius at Western University in London Ontario, noticed their brain scans looked different too. She and other researchers have since developed a sophisticated understanding of what goes on in the key areas of the brain to produce the varied symptoms of PTSD.

Scientists are also interested in how those parts of the brain interact. In a study of Canadian soldiers with PTSD, Dr. Margot Taylor and Dr. Ben Dunkley at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children have observed such consistent patterns of over-active communication between key areas that they believe they’ve found a biomarker for the psychiatric disorder.

Watch Lost on Arrival: Me, the Mounties & PTSD
TSD: Self Care Tips for Victims and Their Family

There are dozens of treatment options for people with PTSD. Many appear to work for some people, some of the time.

But at Massachusetts General Hospital, a team of surgeons, neuroscientists and engineers has embarked on a DARPA-funded project funded they hope will treat PTSD in patients for whom other treatments have failed. They’re cutting to the core of the matter, and building a brain implant.

SCENE FROM THE FILM: Dr. Alain Brunet tested his treatment for trauma after the Paris attacks in November 2015.

Dr. Alain Brunet, from Montreal’s McGill University, has a much cheaper, faster treatment to propose. For over a decade, he’s used propranolol, a beta-blocking drug, to decrease patients’ emotional response to fearful memories.

Now, he’s brought the treatment to Paris, where the November 2105 terror attacks killed more than 130 people. More than 5,000 people — from survivors to first responders — were exposed to the violence.

Patients who have completed the treatment have been able to shake the invasive memories, and are no longer paralyzed by sleeplessness and suicidal thoughts.

PTSD: Canada Has the Highest Rate and Other Surprising Things
My Father Was In a Horrific Accident and Suffered from PTSD

But when so many people experience sudden loss, near-death, violence, and abuse, why are only some haunted by PTSD while others are more resilient?

Young people in a glass blowing projectProject Fire in Chicago, helps children and teens affected by gun violence.

One answer seems to lie in the type of traumatic event and the age at which one experiences it. Lauren McKeon was raped at 16. Now a writer, she describes how the experience and intrusive PTSD symptoms transformed her, and made her more vulnerable to being raped again.

The problem is even more intractable in a context where the violence doesn’t stop. Psychologist Brad Stolbach works with children and teens affected by gun violence in Chicago. But it’s not the only stressor they have to contend with: poverty, drug addiction, inadequate schools and mental health care all play a roll. For them, it’s a matter not just of healing symptoms but fixing a system.

Listen to an interview with director Patrick Reed on Metro Morning

PTSD: Beyond Trauma explores a timely subject situated at the intersection of science and human interest, with life-and-death stakes. It takes viewers to the frontlines of scientific exploration, following researchers and people living with PTSD as they look for answers. Promising new discoveries raise key questions about the faultlines of fear and memory, and the roles geography and early development all may play in predicting personal responses to trauma.

Credits (Click to expand)


Written & Directed by
Patrick Reed

Executive Producer
Peter Raymont

Produced by
Patrick Reed
Andréa Schmidt

Seth Poulin

Director of Photography
Chris Romeike

Mark Korven

Sound Recording
Sanjay Mehta
Alexandre Abrard
Frank Coakley
Jason Milligan
Richard Pooler
Mary Wong

Production Manager
Maxim Gertler-Jaffe

Additional Photography
Emilie Aujé
Maya Bankovic
Boyd Estus
Mike McLaughlin

Location Production Assistant
Marion Gaborit

Post-Production Supervisor
Phil Wilson

Hector Herrera
Nick Sewell

Assistant Editor
Ian Sit

Patrick Reed
Andréa Schmidt

Sound Supervisor
Bruce Fleming

Sound Effects Editors
Deanna Marano
Andy Frech
Steve Blair

Dialogue Editor
Jeremy Kessler

Re-recording Mixer
Ian Rodness

Arlene Moelker

Online Editor
Terry Aquino

Additional Music
Feb Trell

Virginia Kelly

Windsor Star/Post Media Network

For White Pine Pictures
COO: Steve Ord
Director of Business and Legal Affairs: Jason Meloche
Executive in Charge of Production: Stephen Paniccia
Production Accountant: Adriana Aviles
Head of Marketing & Communications: Davida Gragor
Marketing Coordinator: Alicia Giammaria
Executive Assistant to Peter Raymont: Georgina Graham

Special Thanks
Dantrell Blake
Deshon Hannah
Jamie Keating
Marc Lalancette
Dennis MacKenzie
Dr. Margaret McKinnon
Chris Meisner
Dr. Bruno Millet
Dr. Angelique Paulk
Dr. Mathieu Raux
Dr. Kerry Ressler
Dr. Albert “Skip” Rizzo
Amanda Robertson
Bob Rock
Dr. Barbara Rothbaum
Adrien Sourdin
Col. Pat Stogran
Matthew Thombs
Dr. Bessel van der Kolk
Artesha Williams
Peter Zeman

Draper Laboratory
Hôpital Pitié-Salpêtrière, AP-HP
The Hospital for Sick Children
Massachusetts General Hospital
Mikva Challenge Teen Health Council
Project FIRE
Western University
University of Chicago

Produced with the participation of Rogers Documentary Fund


Produced with the participation of

The Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit

Ontario Film and Television Tax Credits

Produced by
White Pine Pictures

For the CBC

General manager, Programming
Sally Catto

Executive Director, Unscripted Content
Jennifer Dettman

Senior Director, Documentary
Sandra Kleinfeld

Executive in Charge of Production
Sue Dando

Director of Production, Unscripted Content
Alexandra Lane

Director of Finance, Unscripted Content
Julie Lawlor
The Nature of Things
with David Suzuki
Produced by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

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