By Christopher Tobutt
Globally, three times as many men as women commit suicide. Locally, 2007 data indicated that 19% of students had considered attempting suicide. Locally too, the majority of suicides are men, sometimes very young men or boys, and there is evidence that the number of suicides in the youth and young men category are on the increase.
Recently, the Alex Panton Foundation held a Young Men At Risk Workshop at South Sound Community Centre. It was facilitated by Dr. Erica Lam, a consultant clinical psychologist and volunteer with the Foundation. The presentation stimulated discussion and thought about the root causes of young men being so sad in our society. The Alex Panton foundation is a not-for-profit organisation with the primary objective of raising awareness of mental illnesses affecting children and young adults in the Cayman Islands with a particular focus on anxiety and depression. The Alex Panton Foundation aims to provide hope and resources to friends, family, teachers, classmates and careers to help save the lives of children and young adults struggling with mental illness.
The evening began with a video featuring local men talking frankly about issues which focused on male mental health. Among them was Hon. MLA for Bodden Town, Dwayne Seymour who spoke about the challenges he had faced in his own life: “I tried doing the best that I could as a father, knowing that I didn’t have a father, and I didn’t know what to do; how to communicate with my son about X Y and Y. I didn’t want to have to ask somebody, because that is embarrassing, But It’s OK to reach out,” he said.
As the evening unfolded, there was a lot of discussion from the dozen or so people who had come to the meeting at South Sound Community Centre about the issues being faced by young people, and young men in particular. Some people said that it was because men feel that they have to be “Tough,” and not show their feelings, whereas women generally are more able to tell someone. The statistics showed that, although women were more likely to seek some kind of help, it was men who were more successful in their suicide attempts. Reasons put forward for this included that men tended to act more impulsively, and more likely to follow through with action.
There was lots of talk too about role models for young men. Young boys have been brought up with the belief that to be a “real” man you have to be tough, one of the slides said. Throughout history, the male persona has been the epitome of stoicism, strength and courage. Male heroes from childhood stories instill it in our culture, we were told, which means that men cannot show how they really feel.
After the discussion, there were some more slides, showing some of the possible practical solutions that may be able to help: It is OK for a dad to show emotions, both positive and negative, and to relate experiences of things they have been through, and how they managed to cope. It is important that from a young age we support boys to feel comfortable with expressing themselves and developing their mental resilience, we were told.