Inadequate training about how the brain develops, and the impact of childhood and multi-generational trauma, is preventing people with problems like depression or addiction from getting the help they need, says Dr. Gabor Maté.
“For a broken limb I always know where to send somebody but people with mental health issues, very often the system makes it worse for them,” said Maté who spoke to Red Deer College students Monday afternoon prior to his public presentation as part of Red Deer College’s series Perspectives: Canada in the World on Monday night.
Maté, a Canadian expert in addictions and trauma, said the mental health profession “just doesn’t get it.”
He said modern research has found that the personality, emotional patterns and brain physiology of the child is shaped directly by the quality of the child/parent relationships.
If parents couldn’t pay attention to their child because they were too busy or stressed or alcoholic, a child’s mind is programmed to believe that he or she is worthless, he said.
“A lot of our thoughts, beliefs and emotions about ourselves are actually the result of early childhood programming. The problem is we tend to believe our minds, so if the mind is telling you that you’re worthless, you believe that you’re worthless.
He said there’s nothing more important than parents being emotionally present and consistently present for their children.
“The parents’ lives in those early years need to be shaped around the needs of the child, not to try and fit the child into the parents’ life goals. If you get the first three or four years right, the rest of life almost takes care of itself.”
He said if parents don’t get it right, healing is still possible if people learn how to separate themselves from their mind and not believe the negative messages that reflect the beliefs of a hurt child. Healing techniques like psychotherapy, meditation, yoga, and others are useful.
“Given the right conditions the brain can rewire itself significantly.”
Maté said as Canada’s most traumatized population, aboriginals face a much higher proportion of mental health problems, suicide, drug addictions and alcoholism.
They have faced multi-generational trauma from abuse and separation from their traditions and governments continue to traumatize them by taking away their land, impinging on their resources and disavowing their autonomy, he said.
“Canadian society has yet to recognize the level of responsibility it bears for the suffering of aboriginal people and has yet to turn it around.”
Maté is the author of four best-selling books published in 20 languages on five continents, including Hold On To Your Kids; When The Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress; and the award winning In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction.