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Symposium tackles the impact of trauma

Local News 23 Feb, 2023 Follow News

Governor Martyn Roper, Chair Jane Panton and Premier Wayne Panton at the Alex Panton Foundation Symposium

National Drug Council staff at the Alex Panton Foundation Symposium Angela Sealy, Simon Miller and Leyla Chin

Dr Ruthlynn Pomares, National Youth Commission Chair, and Camille Angel, Prohgrammes Officer with the Youth Services Unit

By Lindsey Turnbull

Mental health experts gathered at The Ritz-Carlton last Saturday for the sixth annual Alex Panton Foundation Mental Health Symposium to discuss the impact of trauma on the mental health of young people.  

Jane Panton, Chairperson of the Alex Panton Foundation, explained that trauma was defined as a deeply distressing or life-threatening experience that left an individual feeling helpless and overwhelmed, and it had a profound effect on their mental well-being.

“Trauma affects so many in our community, much of which is experienced in formative years,” Mrs Panton stated. “As we planned this year’s symposium, it became evident that many of us have varied understandings of what trauma is. That is why we are here today, to gain a better understanding and to work together to support our young people who have experienced trauma.”

She went on to say that trauma could be brought on by the impact of natural disasters like hurricanes, or violence, bullying, abuse, discrimination, the loss of a loved one or a global pandemic.

“The impact on us, especially in our formative years, can be devastating. Persons affected might experience symptoms such as anxiety, depression and post traumatic stress disorder. Trauma can also impact their relationships and ability to trust others, as well as their ability to perform well at school or work,” she furthered.

Mrs Panton said the personal stories shared by the symposium’s speakers, such as Rhonda Kelly, a Board member of the Alex Panton Foundation whose own daughter, Addi, succumbed to the impact of mental health, would help to provide a deeper understanding of the impact of trauma on young people. She said such individuals showed immense courage in sharing their stories.

She continued that young people were able to recover from trauma and support was available to allow them to process their experiences and learn coping strategies, some of which were shared at the symposium.

“Let’s talk about trauma. Let’s open up the conversation to support our young people who are suffering silently because it is the invisible elephant in the room that few people want to tackle,” Mr Panton said.

Governor Martyn Roper also spoke at the opening of the symposium and said that it was essential to address the subject of trauma affecting the mental health of Cayman’s young people, if the island was to make any progress in changing things. In Cayman, he said there was still a stigma in openly discussing people’s own mental health.

“There is a serious mental health challenge impacting our young people,” he stated. “There are cultural taboos within our community that we do need to tackle. Substance use and abuse is one that is being looked at. Mental health anxiety is also linked to individuals’ sexual identity, linked to the sexual abuse of children.”

These were sensitive and difficult issues which needed to be looked at before progress could be made, he said.

“The emotional and psychological effects of trauma, particularly from those issues that I have highlighted, can be devastating and long lasting, particularly to young people who are still developing their sense of self and identity,” Governor Roper said. “It can lead to a range of mental health issues including depression anxiety and PTSD, all of which can have a highly negative affect on a person’s ability to work and form healthy relationships…that trauma can last a lifetime.”

The Alex Panton Foundation gave him hope that such issues could be tackled and people could be made comfortable discussing their mental health with their family and friends and get the support they needed to heal from trauma and also build resilience.

“This starts with creating safe spaces where they can feel heard and understood and provided access to quality mental health and psychological services,” he said.

Alex’s Place was one such place, Cayman’s first adolescent-specific mental health hub which opened last month in memory of Jane and Premier Wayne Panton’s son Alex, who succumbed to severe depression at the age of 16.

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