What is Trauma?
That was the question being explored Thursday evening by registered psychologist Jennifer Mervin at a packed event hosted by the Community Action Table at The ACT Arts Centre.
Mervin talked about trauma specifically related to ACEs, Adverse Childhood Experiences, and the subsequent research that’s come out since then.
ACEs are potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood up to age 17.
Mervin taked about how trauma can be in the form of physical abuse, emotional abuse, emotional neglect, having a parent who is incarcerated, having a parent who struggles with mental health or addictions issues. Youth that face things like violence, discrimination or bullying.
“Any kind of trauma you can possibly think of while your brain is still growing and developing as a young person,” said Mervin.
Mervin is pleased that the topic of trauma is gaining more and more attention across the province.
Her Maple Ridge presentation was at capacity and a waiting list to get in.
Mervin said trauma really disrupts neuro-development and the nervous system.
But, she said, there is a lot of hope.
“All of this neuro-scientific evidence, all the neuro-imaging studies tells us that our brains have an incredible amount of neuro-plasticity and actually wants to heal,” said Mervin.
And, Mervin said, there are many paths to healing and resetting our brains.
“We can actually reset some of those with healing journeys and therapies, meditation, connecting with nature and exercise,” said Mervin.
Kirsten Funk, of Maple Ridge, was one of four panelists with lived experience who shared the stage with Mervin following her talk.
Funk lost her sister at a young age and went through, “some really serious stuff as a result of this trauma”.
“For me, it was finding my purpose, gaining control of my life again and doing the hard work through counselling to find healing to my traumas,” she said.
Funk believes there is a huge stigma around trauma and mental health, even though, she said, almost everyone experiences some form of struggle with mental health issues at some point in time in their lives.
For the past five years Funk has been an advocate for youth and access to appropriate mental health services.
“As a peer support worker I connect to other youth often through shared lived experiences,” said Funk.
“Meeting them where they are at, offering hope, kindness, love, compassion, this provides an unmatched unlimited pathway to help,” she said.
Mervin would love to see Maple Ridge work towards becoming a self-healing community so that people can build compassion and a heart for people who struggle with mental health, with addiction, with homelessness, and prostitution. Because it’s those people, said Mervin, who have experienced profound trauma.
She thinks that if people can understand how the brain is affected and that, “this isn’t someone’s choice or poor behaviour”, then we can treat one another with compassion and kindness.
“That’s actually one of the ways that we get better,” she said.
What is Trauma? is the second of three free community conversations that will be taking place in Maple Ridge.
Mervin’s talkwas followed by a 45 minute question and answer period with the four panalists.
There was also a resource fair in the lobby of The ACT beforehand.