When Alex Panton took his own life at age 16, the impact rippled through the community.
Seven years later, his parents Wayne and Jane Panton are still struggling to process what happened to their “vivacious” son.
Out of their grief, a new support organization has emerged to help give parents and peers a better understanding of the impact anxiety and depression has on young people.
“The whole community was devastated with the loss of Alex in such a shocking way,” said Mrs. Panton, who set up the foundation in memory of her son.
“I knew he was suffering from depression but I didn’t know the extent or the depth of it.”
She hopes the Alex Panton Foundation, which launches Thursday night with a screening of the movie “Hidden,” will help raise awareness of youth mental health issues and provide resources for other families.
“After Alex died, I came to the realization that I really didn’t understand what was going on with my son,” she said.
“I feel like if we had become aware of the severity of Alex’s anxiety earlier …” she tails off, reluctant to speculate on what might have been.
“I could have helped earlier if I’d known more.”
The foundation seeks to be a central hub where parents can go for information and support, or find links to seek professional help.
“We want to find some way of educating parents and peers about looking out for the signs, about what to say, what not to say,” Mrs. Panton said.
“I know I didn’t know where to turn and other parents come to me and tell me they don’t know where to turn.
“That is the whole reason for the foundation – to provide the resources for other parents.”
The first of two launch events takes place Thursday night at Camana Bay with a free screening of “Hidden,” which was produced by some of Alex’s closest friends and directed by local filmmaker Pascal Pernix.
Kaylyn Bodden, who wrote the movie, said it aimed to highlight the many faces of mental illness.
“Mental illness is here, it’s real, and it needs to be discussed. I think it’s so important to listen to our youth, allow them to be heard and to take their symptoms seriously,” she said.
Following the film’s premiere, a youth mental health symposium will take place on Alex’s birthday, Feb. 10, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort.
Mrs. Panton said the event would feature several speakers from various perspectives on mental illness in Cayman’s youth and young adults, including people living with mental illness, parents, counselors and mental health service providers.
She said the long-term intent of the foundation was to offer support, provide advocacy and raise awareness of mental health issues affecting young people.
“What we hope is to overcome the stigma surrounding this illness so people are free to talk about their internal struggles. I think it becomes easier if you talk about it,” she said.
Setting up the foundation has been an emotional but cathartic experience for Mrs. Panton.
“This has been a long time in the making. It was conceived right after Alex died,” she said.
“It is actually helping me that I know we are going to be helping others. Even if it is just one or two that we can save.”