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Adolescent Mental Health: Julia's Story
Mental Health
7 Minutes
Girl looks at machinery in a lab.

The Adolescent Mental Health Series is brought to you by OPTT.

According to the World Health Organization1, 1 in 6 adolescents aged 10-19 have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder. Depression and anxiety are among the leading causes of illness and disability among adolescents. Additionally, suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among teenagers. This issue does not just exist in the United States, an estimated 1.2 million1 youth in Canada are also affected by mental illness however, less than 20% receive treatment.

This series explores the stories, feelings, and insights from teenagers who are battling mental health disorders.

Julia is a freshman in college with dreams to become a chemical engineer. She never worried about her mental health because it was never her top priority. Julia had some friends who battled mental health conditions, but she didn’t really understand the feeling of depression.

After starting a challenging program at university, Julia started noticing changes in her mental health. She had little motivation to get her work done and was noticing signs of stress and overwhelming emotions. 

After a few weeks of consistent concern for her mental health, Julia decided to try and get professional help before her situation got any worse. She remembered the resources in the health department that were introduced to her during orientation and decided to start there. Julia was placed on a waitlist behind fifty other students, all who were seeking mental health care. The difficulty of getting an appointment completely astonished her. To make matters worse, the university was only conducting phone visits with a therapist. Julia was unable to meet via video call or in-person when she was assigned a psychologist. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she learned she was not an effective learner virtually. Julia knew in order for the program to be helpful, she needed to trust the therapist she was talking to. The “phone only” rule was unappealing and made it even more difficult for her to find the help she needed, in a format that was most accessible to her needs.

As if the waitlist wasn’t discouraging enough, she learned that she was required to enroll and pay for the student health insurance program in order to get long term care at school. However, Julia’s parents were proudly serving in the military and she had insurance from a military insurance provider. This meant she could only meet with a school therapist for six weeks. Julia needed a long-term solution to get her through four years of stressful studies.

After a frustrating first attempt, Julia decided to look for a therapist for herself outside of the school’s program. However, this proved to be difficult as well - it was just as difficult to manage this process. She struggled to find a therapist that took her insurance and connected with her situation. The therapists who came highly recommended for university students were typically completely booked and not taking new patients. Other therapists weren't available between her classes. Julia felt unmotivated to continue looking for help. It shouldn’t be this hard.

Julia was moving to Florida for a summer internship. This made it even more difficult for her to find a therapist because she came to learn that different states have different rules for which psychologists and psychiatrists she can see. Her insurance also wouldn’t cover an out of state provider. Julia knew her family could not afford to pay for a therapist, especially long term. 

This process contributed to Julia’s depression. After months of self advocacy she was feeling hopeless and like a burden to her loved ones. She was beginning to lose basic functioning ability, struggling to get out of bed, not eating properly, and isolating herself from family and friends. 

Julia’s experience, like many others, is the product of societal and systematic issues that make it difficult to access mental health care. There are 40 million people in the United States and Canada who are in need of mental health care, but not receiving it. We are facing a mental health crisis, with a lack of supply, and highest demand recorded in human history.

When Julia needed help the most, she was not motivated to continue searching. She was broken down by the difficulties she faced in accessing quality health care.

Looking forward, increasing digital access to therapy and new innovations in the world of psychological treatment may help prevent these issues, or help increase capacity for the practicing care providers. It would also be helpful if insurance providers added mental health care as a primary care provider. Julia had insurance and when she sought out care, if she was insured to see a therapist as easily as she could see a family doctor, she could have accessed mental health care when she needed it most. 

The New York Times1 has published, “It’s Life or Death”, mental health in adolescents is a global epidemic that is only getting worse.

What can you do to help an adolescent in need?

The New York Times 1 experts say: “Start a conversation. Be clear and direct and don’t shy from hard questions, but also approach these issues with compassion and not blame. Challenging as it may seem to talk about these issues, young people often are desperate to be heard. At the same time, talking to a parent can feel hard.”

Feeling overwhelmed?

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health or having thoughts of suicide call:

United States

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

800-273-8255 (TALK)


Kids Help Phone

Text Services: Text "CONNECT" to 686868 (also serving adults)

Chat Services: https://kidshelpphone.ca/live-chat/


Global Resources: https://www.helpguide.org/find-help.htm

In an emergency call 911, go to the emergency room, and get help from a trusted adult.

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