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Health Matters: Insight into mental health of youth

Health Care 24 Feb, 2021 Follow News

Dr Erica Lam, Consultant Clinical Psychologist, with Aspire and Clinical Consultant of the Alex Panton Foundation

Young people in the Cayman Islands are more likely to have been diagnosed with mental health issues when compared to global data, according to statistics presented at the Alex Panton Foundation’s Youth Mental Health Symposium. The data, which indicated that 12.5 per cent of respondents had been diagnosed with mental health issues, was collected by the National Drug Council from 3,478 students across the Cayman Islands age between 12 and 17 years, during the NDC’s student drug study, the last of which took place in early 2020 (before the pandemic hit.)

Dr Erica Lam, Consultant Clinical Psychologist, with Aspire and Clinical Consultant of the Alex Panton Foundation, presented findings from the study as they related to mental health issues and said this was the second year the Foundation had partnered with the NDC and so they were able to make comparisons between this latest study and the previous one, which took place in 2018.

Dr Lam said that of those diagnosed with mental health issues (of which more were girls than boys), 84.9 per cent said they had sought help. Barriers to them seeking help included the fact that they felt they didn’t need help, they feared the help would not be useful, they feared being judged, they felt embarrassed and they felt they could not afford the help. Help should therefore be generated in ways that young people could easily access it, such as via social media and forums such as the mental health symposium, Dr Lam advised.


The role of the family

The survey found that 5.7 per cent of respondents’ parents had been diagnosed with mental illness, which was one of the predictors as to whether the child would go on to develop it also. A student’s relationship with their parents paid a crucial role in whether the students might go on to develop mental illness, the doctor said. While 70 per cent of those students questioned said they had safe and engaging relationships at home, 34 per cent had seen violence in the home. Simple things like not yelling at children had a significant impact on lowering suicidal tendencies among children, while checking in with children (such as whether they had done their homework), spending time with them and having fun were all useful ways to encourage communications with young people, who were then less likely to develop mental issues, Dr Lam said.


Issues at school

As far as school was concerned, over half the respondents said they had experienced bullying, with incidents of students being made fun of because of their body, being ostracised, being bullied because of their race and colour. Five per cent of bullying involved physical bullying. A worrying factor revealed in the study was that 4.3 per cent of those bullied went on to attempt suicide, she explained. Some good news was that the survey revealed a significant drop in the number of students carrying weapons into school, from 67.2 per cent in 2018 down to 12.5 per cent in 2020. Even so, that still meant 284 students did not feel safe in school and felt the need to arm themselves. Dr Lam said that Cayman therefore still had a way to go, in this regard.

More than half of those polled said they had witnessed violence in their school, community or home and one in four said they had been involved in life-threatening events. Significant predictors of someone going on to develop anxiety and depression were if they were female, if they were being bullied, self-harming, had been physically abused, had issues with alcohol and had been through a life-threatening event. Four and a half per cent of those students who responded said they had turned up to school drunk. The audience heard that students diagnosed with mental illness were three times more likely to attempt suicide, Dr Lam explained. From the survey, they found that a worrying 17 per cent of students had thought about suicide, or 387 students, with 9 per cent stating they had attempted suicide. While girls were more likely to attempt suicide than boys, boys were more likely to harm themselves as they tended to use a more aggressive method. A child that had experienced abuse was 7.3 times more likely to attempt suicide, the doctor said. This was an issue that had to be taken very seriously, Dr Lam advised.

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