Teens talk mental health in Cayman

For Cayman’s young people, the coronavirus crisis and resulting lockdown meant disruption of school schedules and isolation from their peer groups. As working adults and parents juggled with COVID-19 stressors, teens too were finding ways to adjust to their new reality.

Suddenly, friends and teachers were only available on-screen, outlets like sports and clubs were cancelled, and home became school.

The impact on youth development and wellness has preoccupied teachers and parents, prompting the Ministry of Education to announce expanded mental health services for students and staff.

Meanwhile, the Youth Ambassadors Programme, an initiative of the Alex Panton Foundation, has continued to provide an outlet for teens to connect and open up about topics like anxiety and depression. The student-led group aims to destigmatise mental health and keep teens connected, even during difficult times.

More than 40 students from 12 Cayman Islands schools have joined the programme this year. Several Youth Ambassadors from John Gray High School, Clifton Hunter High School and Cayman International School spoke with the Cayman Compass about the programme and why mental health matters to them.

Why were you interested in joining Youth Ambassadors?

I was interested in joining the Youth Ambassador Programme because I personally do struggle with my own mental health. It is something that has found its way to tear me down in the past. I wanted to know how to help others that are struggling with it, like my friends, because it is a very difficult thing to deal with.

Gianna Gregory, 13, Clifton Hunter

What has it been like opening up about mental health?

I feel like, in general, people don’t really talk about mental health as much as they should. It was kind of hard to start talking about, especially before I joined YAP, because I hadn’t really heard about it or talked about it with my friends and family. The Youth Ambassador Programme kind of helped me realise there’s a whole bunch of people that are affected by mental health, and it made it easier to talk about.

Isabela Watler, 17, Cayman International School

Had you ever spoken to an adult about mental health before the Youth Ambassador Programme?

Yes. There are people in my family who struggled from mental health [issues] and I think that’s also one of the reasons why my journey was much more beneficial. I felt there were less things holding me back from getting the help I needed. People in my family understood because they had gone through it as well.

Ainsley Imparato, 16, CIS

My mom actually was very open with me about her mental health because we both have issues with our mental health. That made it a lot easier to be open with her as well. It was overall very beneficial for me because I felt comfortable with telling her about mine because she opened up to me about hers.

Gianna Gregory, 13, Clifton Hunter

Have you benefitted from support within your peer group?

Yeah, I feel like, in my friend group, we are very open about the different things that we may go through. I feel that it is a lot more nerve-racking to want to go see a counsellor or a therapist. There’s that confidence between friends that you can talk about certain things. And I’ve seen myself taking my own advice when I’m talking to someone else and it’s like, “Oh, hey, that’s actually gonna work”.

Isaiah Bodden, 17, homeschool

How did you cope with the stress during lockdown?

I eventually made a schedule to feel more organised and set out what to do at a certain time. It also keeps me occupied and I have self-care stuff. It’s not just work-based; it’s fun activities to do in my spare time to keep me from boredom and losing my mind.

Jhadari Lumley, 15, John Gray

I have seen an increase in depression for me and that’s also mainly because I really didn’t have much contact with my friends. … I think also, because of the lack of stuff to do during the day, I just felt really unproductive. So, I started keeping a kind of a list, not really a schedule, but more of things I want to do today or this week. I need to check it all off and if I do that, I’ll give myself [a reward].

Ainsley Imparato, 16, CIS

I was introduced to journalling by my life skills class. We were learning about self-awareness and we were watching this video on ways you can become more self-aware, and one of them was journalling. You write three things you are grateful for and three things that have been bothering you every morning. That’s what I started doing, along with doing a drawing that morning too.

My mood has significantly improved. I became more open with sharing how I feel, I was happier and that definitely benefitted me overall.

Gianna Gregory, 13, Clifton Hunter

Why is access to mental healthcare important to you?

I think it’s important to promote access to mental healthcare because you’re validating people’s feelings. You’re saying it’s okay to have a mental health difficulty and here are the resources … You’re not alone and what you’re feeling is completely normal.

Sadie Finch, 17, CIS

When my father passed away four years ago, I decided to seek therapy and I realised that the insurance didn’t cover it. I became quickly aware of how expensive it was. … We ended up turning to pastors and that kind of helped, but I think that it’s important to have a very good, strong mental health system because then you would see decreases in substance abuse and domestic violence rates.

Cristin Jackson, 17, CIS

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