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Thriving Mentally in Uncertain Times

Thriving Mentally in Uncertain Times

Ways in which young people can successfully navigate through uncertain times such as the COVID-19 pandemic was a central theme of the 5th Annual Youth Mental Health Symposium held by the Alex Panton Foundation on 19 February at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman.

More than 20 presenters from a wide spectrum of sectors, including teachers, pastors, counsellors, mental health professionals and members of the Foundation’s Youth Ambassador Programme spent the day sharing their stories and experiences, while offering valuable insights into how young people in particular can feel like they’re “thriving during uncertain times,” which was the titled theme of this year’s symposium, for which Dart was a premium sponsor.

Named after Premier Wayne Panton’s son, who died by suicide at the age of 16, the Alex Panton Foundation has a primary objective of raising awareness of mental illnesses affecting children and young adults in the Cayman Islands with a particular focus on anxiety and depression.

Speaking at the symposium, chairperson and founder Jane Panton empathised with everyone who has to deal with the grief of losing a loved one.

“These past few months have been especially difficult for the community,” she said. “We’ve lost loved ones to COVID and we have also lost young persons to the unimaginable nightmare of suicide.”

Panton was inspired to start the Foundation after losing her son, Alex, to depression, and so was able to draw on her own experience to strengthen others.

“You will learn to live beside your grief … and the APF is here to help you make it through,” she said. “I am here as living proof that you will thrive again in honour of your loved one. We’re here to support you and connect you with people who can help you.”


One of the speakers at the event was Sutton Burke, clinical director of Infinite Mindcare, who gave a presentation titled, “Sit with It: Accepting Life’s Punches and Building Resiliency.”

“In the therapy world, sit with it is something we say when getting people to acknowledge their feelings and to sit with their feelings,” she said. “It’s also about the importance of sitting with our own discomfort, as opposed to using some sort of escape. The more we sit with it, the easier it is to accept reality and build resiliency for the future of life events.”


Listening to young people, rather than simply giving them advice, was one of the ideas that kept emerging throughout the event, with Premier Panton emphasising the importance of including young people in the conversations. To this end, he shared plans to invite members of the Youth Ambassador Programme to one of the government’s caucus meetings.

“We are going to have the young people come in and talk to the policymakers of this country about the issues that affect them today, how they feel about what’s happening in their country and what the priorities are from their perspective.”

In his presentation called “Touching Tomorrow from Today, the Value of Mentoring,” Christopher Murray, a school counsellor, spoke about how he has managed to positively impact the lives of more than 500 boys over more than a decade by beginning the Boyz2Men mentorship program. He began the group with just three boys, one of whom is Seaford Russell, who is now a director of the programme.

Murray said he remembered that as a teenager, Russell had broken the lock off his counselling office door because he was so desperate to talk to someone. As a result, Murray took Russell fishing, which began a life-changing relationship that ultimately set the stage to positively impact hundreds of lives through Boyz2Men.


In her presentation, Alanna Warwick-Smith noted that it can take time to win the battle of your own mind.

“Who here has ever planted a seed?” she asked the audience. “The day you plant the seed is not the day you eat the fruit.”

Warwick-Smith told the audience about her own 14-year struggle with depression, and how planting positive seeds of hope and happiness and vision has been able to help her through.

Accepting young people for who they are also emerged as a theme of the symposium, as youth counsellor Mario Garraway explored in his presentation about the value of each young person’s uniqueness. He drew on his own experience of growing up in a tribal community and of how he resisted pressures to conform so that he could experience more of the world.


In praising the impact the Alex Panton Foundation has already made on the lives of young people, Minister of Health Sabrina Turner said that addressing and improving mental health of children and young adults in the Cayman Islands needed to be made a priority, and noted that a long-awaited children’s and adolescents’ mental health hub on the Health Services Authority hospital campus would soon open.