Report reveals anxiety, depression and suicide attempts
Substantial levels of “loneliness, anxiety and depression” among Cayman’s youth, identified in a series of health surveys came as no surprise to counselors in the territory.
Dr. Marc Lockhart, chair of Cayman’s Mental Health Commission, said youth mental health, including attempted suicides, had been troubling issues for some time but were not being adequately addressed.
“The results are startling but not necessarily shocking, I think the shocking aspect of it is, what are our plans to deal with it? How are we handling it? I think the honest answer to both of those questions is we are not doing enough,” he said.
Terry Delaney, of Cayman Counselling Services, said depression and anxiety were widespread issues in the community that mental health professionals were dealing with every day.
The Pan American Health Organization’s series of surveys with 955 teenagers made headlines because of the high levels of physical and sexual abuse reported by the young people surveyed.
But the study also looked at depression among young people and found significant issues, particularly among girls.
Of the 848 teenagers who answered the question, around a quarter said they had experienced suicidal thoughts over the past year. A total of 51 said they had actually attempted to kill themselves.
More than half of those surveyed were classified as depressed, meaning they said, in response to a survey question, that they had felt so sad and hopeless that nothing seemed worthwhile for more than a day or two over the past year.
The report notes greater issues with girls, noting, “Females indicated significantly poorer mental health than males. Far more of the young women reported loneliness, anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts.”
The authors of the study point to links between sexual and physical abuse and suicide attempts.
“Those who had been sexually abused were 7.5 times more likely than others to have attempted suicide. Those who had a high level of exposure to violence were 4 times more likely than others to have attempted suicide,” the report notes.
Dr. Lockhart said, “While a long-term facility is what is needed for adults, that is not the answer for young people. For the youth, more intensive outpatient opportunities and interventions are what is needed.
“There should be more follow-up, particularly with those identified as victims of sexual abuse. That is where we need more counselors at schools and better training for our counselors and youth workers to be able to recognize these issues.”
Though reports of actual suicides among young people are very rare in the Cayman Islands, Dr. Lockhart cautions that more action is needed to deal with the underlying issues.
“I don’t see that happening as yet. There is a lot of interest and a lot of concern. We have that at all levels, but I’m not sure where we are in terms of moving forward with a clear plan to address these issues.”
He believes there are simply not enough counselors on the islands to deal with the problem.
Mr. Delaney said the results of the survey were not news to him.
“It does not in any way, shape or form surprise me. I have seen this kind of thing in private practice for the last 35 years.
“I hope more time is spent looking at what we can do to reduce this. There is almost an avoidance factor in overdoing the analysis. There is a need for research, but there should be more emphasis on treating and preventing this kind of thing,” he said.
He agrees more counselors are needed, as well as greater collaboration and coordination among counselors. He also recommends more proactive programming to support families in raising children.
While he believes Cayman is still under-resourced in terms of mental healthcare, he says things have improved significantly over the year.
He said people are beginning to realize that counseling is not for “crazy people” and that depression and anxiety are medical issues that need treatment, just like any other health problem.