By Lindsey Turnbull
Attendees to this year’s Alex Panton Foundation’s Youth Mental Health Symposium, held last Saturday at The Ritz-Carlton, heard how the Foundation had reached out to assist young people during 2020, a year in which the mental health of all generations took its toll due to the global pandemic and subsequent restrictions and worries that event has generated.
During his opening address at the symposium, Governor Martyn Roper said that youth mental health had been hugely impacted by the pandemic.
“My office has been acutely aware of the strain the lockdown and the continuing impact of the pandemic has had on the mental wellness of Cayman’s youth community,” he said, stating that remote learning, separation from friends and family, loss of family income, missing important life milestones such as graduation, fear of the unknown, obsessive social media usage, the impact of undefined external exams, inability to take part in sport and uncertainty over travel, all had had negative impacts on youth mental health.
Youth mental health was a global issue currently, the Governor said.
“The UK is facing the biggest hit to mental health since the second World War,” he said.
In the U.S., one study found 70 per cent of young people were struggling with mental health issues, while a recent UNICEF study found out of the young people they studied in Latin America and the Caribbean, 73 per cent felt the need to ask for help concerning their mental wellbeing, with some 40 per cent not reaching out to get the help they needed.
The Cayman Islands was therefore fortunate to have an entity such as the Alex Panton Foundation which championed, raised awareness for and supported young people.
“I was so pleased to see the Foundation jump into action with innovative ideas as to how to assist those most in need during lockdown, such as online forums, social media campaigns, and peer-support groups,” the Governor stated. “I particularly commend public/private sector volunteers who launched a mental health hotline providing this vital resource at the beginning of the pandemic.”
Collaboration by the Foundation with other entities such as the Red Cross and the Crisis Centre was also important.
“Collaboration and coordination are the key to making a real difference,” he said.
The purpose of this year’s symposium, the fourth annual event, was to look back over the past year and reflect on what had taken place with regard to mitigating the effects of Covid-19 on youth mental health, to help build resilience for them.
Alex Panton Foundation Chair and co-founder, Jane Panton, outlined the work the Foundation had done in 2020, highlighting their virtual interactive programmes such as the ‘Stay in and Chill’ programme, which reached out to young people, the emotional literacy programmes which had had a “phenomenal impact” on young children helping them to learn coping skills, support groups for people aged 18 to 30, and a recent addition of an online support group for teens.
“We are especially very proud of the impact of these programmes over the past year, which help to build a stronger, more compassionate Cayman,” Mrs Panton said.