It’s well known that our genetic makeup plays a role in how our brains develop, but we are just learning how much our childhood experiences impact how our brains function as adults. A recent study on brain development called The Brain Story found that if a child’s brain is being built in an environment with toxic stresses, it can have a lasting impact. This helps explain the fact that a child who grows up with a parent who is struggling with addiction is eight times more likely to develop an addiction as an adult.
David Rust, the Project Lead for the Community Mental Health Action Plan, has seen firsthand how addiction and toxic stress during childhood can be linked. David has spent the vast majority of his 38 year career working in the community to help local youth. Throughout that time he has witnessed gaps in community supports for people dealing with childhood trauma and abuse.
The Community Mental Health Action plan is working to fill those gaps by building partnerships across the province, including with United Way of the Alberta Capital Region, a founding member of the initiative. United Way currently provides vision and strategy guidance, mobilization of funding, and co-chairs the work with the City of Edmonton. The plan aims to maximize collective resources, leverage opportunities to fill gaps in service, and foster innovative approaches to integrating services.
“By working closely with community members who struggle with mental health or addiction problems, we are learning from their experiences to make services more accessible and ultimately more successful,” explains Rust.
To learn more about the powerful role of relationships and childhood experiences on the developing brain, community members can attend a Brain Architecture Game at United Way. The Brain Architecture Game is an experiential tool to learn about early brain development – what promotes it, what derails it, and what the consequences are for individuals and society. New Brain Game dates will be added in early 2019.
United Way, along with its partners, is working to break the cycle of addiction through early identification and intervention while streamlining support networks in order to make them easier to navigate. United Way also funds a variety of programs that provide a safety net for those seeking addiction support and services. Free programs like the Armoury Resource Centre offer addiction counselling for youth, and all age drop-in counselling is available at various locations throughout the Edmonton area. If you or someone you know is in need of support, you can dial 211 to be connected to local services.
Travis was in a battle with addiction that left him without a home. Luckily, he got help from a United Way supported program that helped him recover. Now he is helping others. See Travis’s story in the video below.