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Trevor Stone's Journal
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Dr. Gabor Maté on Democracy Now 
30th-May-2011 11:43 pm
pensive goat
I caught today's Democracy Now show, which collected three previous interviews with Dr. Gabor Maté. If you're interested in rethinking contemporary medicine, the hour-long program is worth a listen.

He talks about how mental and emotional health can't be separated from physical health, but since western medicine (which he also knows and practices) has a better understanding of the latter, chemical-based solutions are often applied to solve primarily social problems. For instance, in post-industrial America, many children don't get much parental attention – many companies give just six weeks of maternity leave – meaning kids miss out on important developmental processes. This often manifests later in life in damaging ways, ranging from ADHD to drug addiction to antisocial behavior.

I've been thinking recently about "ecological thinking," which I hope to write more about later, and these interviews were a good example of what I've got in mind. Short maternity leave makes sense from the short-term self-interest of the company, but a culture where the practice is widespread may, over the course of a couple generations, be significantly worse-off because its children missed out on important development.
31st-May-2011 01:34 pm (UTC)
As I prepare to leave my six-week-old for the first time... literally, about to close my computer and go...

Does he have actual evidence linking number of weeks of maternity leave to all these terrible mental health outcomes, or is that just how he thinks it should work? Everything I have read seems to suggest that it is the quality of care, both by mom and by other caregivers, that matters, more than whether the mom works.

That said, of course corporations are sociopaths, they don't care about the health of society, that's just not how they are set up.
1st-Jun-2011 05:34 am (UTC)
As a Child and Family therapist who works frequently with children and adolescents who a) at least half the time have trauma and neglect histories and b) frequently meet criteria for ADHD; traits frequently seen with borderline personality disorder; and oppositional defiance/conduct disorders....

It's quality, not quantity, though the two aren't always fully separate. Being a working mom in and of itself is NOT going to screw up your kid.
1st-Jun-2011 06:10 am (UTC)
He talked a bit about parental care being particularly important, and that there's a different outcome for kids with predominantly peer-driven development. I was kind of distracted during that segment, though, so I'm not sure about the details.

As for quality versus quantity, I think he's arguing for quality. He talked a lot about stress (one of his books focuses on it), and seemed to be saying that there tends to be more stress in a home environment where both parents are working. He also talked about home stress situations like his early childhood under Nazi occupation, which he attributes as a large factor in his own addictive behavior (workaholism). And growing up in a situation where neither parent has a job can also be stressful...

I'm not sure what his maternity leave evidence is (Democracy Now often doesn't focus on citation), but he said that a lot of countries without a strong working mother culture have lower incidences of these disorders. I'm not sure if he's compared, say, the U.S. to Norway where the government gives new moms two years of support.
1st-Jun-2011 11:46 am (UTC)
The parental leave mandated through the government is so much BS. They have to give you six weeks of unpaid leave if you have a child if they are a company with over 50 employees. So you get a) very little time off b) no money and c) only if your company is large enough.
2nd-Jun-2011 01:55 am (UTC)
Yes, but so much better than before; I've been hearing people my parents' age talk about how little time they had off when people my age (30ish) were born.

It's just one thing of the many in our culture that doesn't support families (or people in general, really). I am lucky to live near extended family who are willing (excited! grandmas love grandbabies!) to take part in child care.

Also, re: Pareto principle- yes! So much parenting advice goes to extremes. If a little bit of music is good for the brain, then we must be playing Mozart to our fetuses 24/7! Etc.
1st-Jun-2011 11:43 am (UTC)
Don't load up on the extra helping of parental guilt. If you are worried about leaving your child, you are probably one of those people doing an okay job of parenting. I have a feeling that the parenting thing has some pareto effects. If you go from okay parenting to excellent parenting, you may see a 20% gain in outcome. If you go from awful to okay, your child has an 80% gain in outcome. The lower end of awful though is pretty horrifying.
1st-Jun-2011 05:42 am (UTC)
Eh. I'm not sure about all of this. Seems grossly oversimplified.

On the one hand, I fully believe that we too often approach mental health care and addictions from a medical model, even when it's not appropriate, and ADHD is a great example because

--it's overdiagnosed (easy to meet criteria for)
--many disorders, for example PTSD and anxiety, masquerade as ADHD
--it IS a symptom of a wider macro-level syndrome caused in part, I believe, by our emphasis on multitasking.

That said, there are many, many times when there's a legitimate biological component. I am absolutely not a proponent of overmedicating people, particularly kids. I myself am much more frequently referring clients to psychiatry as a result of client-driven (usually parent-driven) referrals. But there's this trend in mental health, particularly in people like me who may qualify as kind of "crunchy" and idealistic, to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Also, I've seen how resilient kids are. I've seen them thrive and bounce back from really horrific levels of abuse and neglect. I see it every day, seriously. And although overworked parents are indubitably having an effect on their children, I am not prepared to point the finger at them for drug addiction, ADHD, and acute Axis II diagnoses (which is, I assume, what they mean by "antisocial behavior").
1st-Jun-2011 06:12 am (UTC)
That said, there are many, many times when there's a legitimate biological component.

Dr. Maté believes this as well. He's advocating better integration between physical and mental health, not the replacement of the former with the latter.
2nd-Jun-2011 01:57 am (UTC)
So I know I totally sidetracked the conversation by focusing on the example that happened to correspond to my exact situation (sort of; as a graduate student I have more flexibility than many, though no official leave, and I also recognize that I work outside the home by choice, which many don't.)

But! I really like this point about integrating physical and mental health care.

Ah, sleep deprivation -> nonlinear train of thought. To bed!
1st-Jun-2011 09:51 am (UTC)
It seems like whatever is wrong, it always comes down to being the mother's fault. As a mother, I tend to object to that analysis.

I'll refrain from a long rant that won't really accomplish anything here -- but I would have loved more paid time off with my daughter when she was an infant. I got 8 weeks because she was delivered by C-section. When I went back to work, I got into trouble for taking time off when she needed me. It actually drove me into some kind of breakdown. So I'm pretty sensitive to blaming the mother. Yes, the doctor here is pointing to the corporations and the Puritan work ethic, but still there is the flavor of "a mother should know better and do what is best for her child." Sometimes that isn't staying home all the time.
5th-Jun-2011 07:14 pm (UTC)
Actually scholarship shows that by being a working mother you may actually be benefiting your daughter. Female children it turns out have better self-esteem if they see that their mother working. Go fig...
5th-Jun-2011 07:39 pm (UTC)
That's interesting, thank you. Actually, she got to see me working for half her life, going back to school, then becoming disabled. I can't tell, at her age of 17, which part made the most impact on her yet.
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