London

Technology could change mental health diagnosis and treatment

Researchers in London say technology is showing promise in diagnosing psychiatric disorders, such as Post Traumatic Stress disorder. They've been able to capture images of the brain that are 92-percent accurate in confirming PTSD in patients that were already diagnosed.

A study at the Lawson Health Research Institute and Western University is 92% accurate in diagnosing PTSD

A paramedic sits with his head in his hands after finding a child dead in a car crash. (Daniel Sundahl)

Researchers in London say technology is showing promise in diagnosing psychiatric disorders, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). They've been able to capture images of the brain that are 92-percent accurate in confirming PTSD in patients that were already diagnosed. 

The study was done by scientists from the Lawson Health Research Institute and Western University. 

They used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to capture images of 181 patients' brains in a resting state. 

"So they're not actually doing anything," said Andrew Nicholson, lead author of the study on CBC London's Afternoon Drive. "We're just seeing essentially how their brain is functioning while at rest." 

Andrew Nicholson, lead author of the study and post-doctoral fellow at the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry at Western University. (Kerry McKee/CBC)

The images that were captured were very telling, said Nicholson. Some of the patients were healthy and others had PTSD.  

"We found that we were able to predict either PTSD or a healthy individual classification with 92% accuracy just based on the resting state brain activation," said Nicholson. 

But, the results went further. The technology could predict subtypes of PTSD. The more common type of the disorder causes outbursts or hyper-arousal. A subset is more passive and leads a patient to shut down emotionally or have out-of-body experiences, according to the research. 

Getting a diagnosis often challenging

The reseachers say, the technology could improve wait times as well as getting a diagnosis and treatment for those with a mental illness. 

"For anyone who has gone to the hospital to seek assistance for mental illness, they know that the process is completely trial and error," said Nicholson. "I think this [technology] will really benefit identifying the right people to the right treatment."

It will take less time than a full clinical assessment which can take hours and several visits to hone in on what the patient is experiencing. 

Nicholson believes this technology has the potential to reduce mental health wait times and worker absenteeism caused by PTSD. 

"It has really big implications because PTSD is so highly resistant to treatment and a lot of people can be out of work for years," said Nicholson. "If you're initially matching someone up with the right treatment from the beginning, they're not going to be coming to the clinic as often."

Nicholson hopes members of the public will read about this study and take some solace in its findings. 

"It kind of validates that there's a neurobiological underpinning to these symptoms. It's very validating the learn about these symptoms."