Health minister opens up about painful childhood

Dwayne Seymour tells his story at the Youth Mental Health Symposium

Health Minister Dwayne Seymour. Photo: Reshma Ragoonath

Health Minister Dwayne Seymour recently opened up about his childhood and the challenges he faced growing up with a father struggling with mental health issues.

Speaking at the Alex Panton Foundation Youth Mental Health Symposium last Saturday he stressed the importance of breaking the stigma that surrounds seeking psychiatric help, one he experienced first-hand growing up.

“Imagine at 10 years, after being teased that your father’s crazy. I sat down, I’m trying to work out when and what age I would go crazy… Also not fully understanding what was going on, that’s what I thought as a young man,” Seymour told participants at the symposium.

He said his ministry supports creating an adolescent mental health hub at the Cayman Islands Hospital, in partnership with the Health Services Authority, which would
provide much-needed specialised services for young people. That project, he said, was delayed by the pandemic, but he anticipated it would be launched by the fourth quarter of this year.

Lack of services a challenge

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The minister, in commending the work of the foundation, reflected on the lack of similar support when he was growing up, as he recounted the struggles he went through as a child who had a parent challenged by mental health issues. “I tried all my life… not to be seen as crazy because that’s what they call my father,” said an emotional Seymour.

The symposium, themed ‘Youth Mental Wellness: Reflection, Recovery and Resilience’, focussed on the challenges COVID-19 presented in relation to mental health issues and programmes available to young people.

Attendees also participated in a panel discussion on the impact of the pandemic on youth mental health, building resilience and recovery. Photo: Reshma Ragoonath

Seymour told the audience that
he struggled to understand what was happening with his father, who was a successful seaman and popular in the community.

He said, back then, he made a commitment to not do drugs because someone said his father did that.

“So after hearing that, I said, ‘Well, if my father did drugs maybe that’s what caused the mental health problem?’ I didn’t know. I was young … 9, 10 years old at the time,” he said, adding later on he would better understand what his father was going through.

After receiving help, Seymour said, he realised that his father “wasn’t crazy”.

He said his father was sent to a mental health ward in Jamaica and he visited him a couple of times during the 10 years he was there.

Seymour said that after his father overcame his challenges, he opted to remain in Jamaica to work.

“He didn’t want to come home, back to the same community around the same people because he thought he would go back to the same things,” Seymour said.

He shared that his father was told by his doctor that his heart was weak and the elder Seymour agreed to come home to Cayman in 2011 because he wanted to die in his native country.

He said his father wanted to celebrate his last birthday in Jamaica before coming home in February of that year.

The ticket for the flight to Cayman had already been booked, but two days before his father’s birthday the elder Seymour died.

“For me, coming to this symposium is a must,” he said, adding, “I know what it feels like never to have a father.”

Seymour said it was that experience that helped him to see mental health issues differently and push for a mental health facility on island so families would not be separated.

As it stands now, those needing long-term treatment are either sent to Jamaican facilities or, in some cases, to the United States.

Last year, the Ministry of Health announced that work had resumed on the construction of the long-term residential mental health facility, which is planned for East End. Construction was expected to be completed by the end of this year.

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