When you talk to Dr. Matt Chow, you don’t get the sense the psychiatrist is immersed in Freudian theory who will pronounce obscure diagnoses, citing arcane references.
Instead, he speaks about mental health and wellness using everyday language, in understandable terms.
It’s just easier to help people that way.
“It is a more modern approach, but it’s part of my personal style to be very straight-forward with people.”
Chow’s dad used to be in the Canadian Army and Chow has met Canadian Forces psychiatrists who just followed a straight-forward, plain-talk approach to helping veterans struggling with post-tramautic stress disorder.
He decided to adopt that approach to the people he helps.
Besides, keeping people mentally well isn’t a hugely convoluted process that requires complicated language.
“It’s not as hard as people think. It isn’t brain surgery. It isn’t rocket science. We’re not trying to put somebody into orbit here,” Chow said.
He adds that when doctors use complicated language, it makes it hard for people to understand problems that are complicated enough when it comes to sorting out one’s emotions.
“All we’re trying to do is help our kids so they can be the most successful they can be.”
It just takes community effort, a bit of money and a bit of help, “so they don’t end up in gangs, so they’re not using drugs, so they’re not having to cope with their emotions in a negative way.”
Chow, orginally from Calgary, is a Vancouver psychiatrist who’s been practising since 2011. He visits the Youth Wellness Centre in Maple Ridge’s Greg Moore Youth Centre on Saturdays and Sundays, helping kids struggling with the everyday problems of growing up in tough times.
“We don’t need tens and tens of millions of dollars in every community to do something like this,” said Chow.
Instead, after initially interviewing each youth to get an idea of the problems they’re struggling with, Chow can set up referrals to other agencies, suggest further appointments or assign certain tasks that would help people going through tough times.
Once Chow’s met them at least once, he’ll even use FaceTime or Skype to keep in touch.
He practises elsewhere in the province, serving people from farther-flung locations around B.C., so meeting online can save time and money.
His approach to mental health is to provide people some skills, healthy lifestyles and different ways of thinking so that they can continue on with their lives, even though all of their problems may still not be solved.
Or, if it’s early enough, problems can be solved quickly just by following a ‘get ‘er done’ approach.
“You can actually teach people ways to overcome their difficulties by themselves,” he explained.
He initially planned on just becoming a medical practioner and thought psychiatry was too boring and too weird.
“It was the last thing I wanted to do while in med school.”
But during one stint as a student, he served in a mental health clinic.
“I realized that people with mental health problems – these are real problems. They happen to really nice people, really normal people and they’re really debilitating.”
He likes to help kids because intervening when they’re young is most effective.
Chow has been a psychiatrist since 2011 and sees about a dozen kids a day.
“If you really want to help people with mental health problems, you’ve really got to hit those issues when people are still young. Seventy-five per cent of mental health problems start before you’re 25 years old.”
The sooner you get to it, the better.
“If we can do early screening and detection of mental health, we prevent people from going down the rabbit hole of substance abuse and broken relationships and going on disability and things like that.
“The lifestyle changes that people make, the changes to their thinking, the changes to how they deal with relationships, that actually has an impact on their future health.”
Chow also knows first-hand of the challenges of mental health.
He suffered from anxiety and depression when he was in medical school. He was nervous and anxious and had panic attacks and at one point considered suicide, but he didn’t know what was the problem at the time.
“When I was going through it, I didn’t know what it was.
“I was lucky enough that I had really kind mentors who may not have known what was going on, but kind of figured out that something was going on and helped me out.”
He got help later in life for that.
“I wanted to make sure that other people don’t have to go through the same things I did. And that they can help sooner and faster and more efficiently and not being made to feel bad about wanting or needing help.
He uses that experience to motivate today’s kids.
“I tell the kids they are smarter and faster and brighter than me.”
He meets kids who are already programming computers or competing at high levels in sport.
“So I tell them … if I can get through medicine, I know for sure you guys, even with anxiety or depression or what have, you’re going to be successful. We just have to do some tweaks to help you out so you’re off and on your way.”
To others going through the same thing, he says to get help.
It doesn’t mean you’re weird, he said.
There’s even youth mental health help offered online now, by the Ministry of Health, he points out.
“Don’t just suffer in silence.”
When he hears back from people who making their way through life and living their lives – there’s no better feeling.
“Parents come back and say, ‘My kid’s a different kid. They’re so much more settled. They became an A student. It’s amazing. They’re able to compete in nationals because they can actually get on plane because they’re not getting panic attacks any more.’
“That kind of drives me, as well, to hear those stories.”