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Adolescent Mental Health: Tom's Story
Mental Health
5 Minutes
Boy leans up against red wall.

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.


Tom is studying to get his major in International Business, with hopes of going to law school in the future. Growing up, he did not focus on his mental health. He had struggles but mostly kept them to himself in fear of looking weak. Tom grew up in a wealthy and loving family; his life seemed easy to the average outsider. 

Tom started playing baseball when he was a kid and was extremely passionate about the sport. His parents always told him that sports would solve all his problems. Although baseball was not a solution, it was a good escape to help clear his mind. When Tom was a junior in high school he started to notice his emotions were changing. This led to impulsive decisions and outbursts of anger. Tom knew he needed help but was too afraid to ask for it - he believed he would be judged by his team, his coach, and his family. He was always told to “man up” “be a man” and “be brave”, but the stigma surrounding men and mental health was holding him back.

During his junior year in high school, he received an offer to play at Florida State University. Tom finally thought that his struggle with mental health was paying off. However, during his senior year of high school, he tore his arm while pitching and had to get reconstruction surgery. This surgery meant he could no longer play baseball or attend Florida State University on a scholarship. This setback had an extreme toll on his mental health - it was his breaking point. While his teammates were moving away to play at other schools, he was stuck with his own thoughts and could not picture what his future would look like. Tom wondered what his future would hold if it didn’t include baseball. He felt completely hopeless. 

To make matters worse, the COVID-19 pandemic created more isolation from family, friends, and other social activities. Tom was extremely depressed and had no motivation to work hard in school. He began having a hard time regulating his emotions and would take out his frustration on others verbally. While the recovery from the surgery was already difficult, he also began spending less time doing things that made him happy.

His family and friends knew how hard and crushing this injury was for him. They suggested seeing a therapist for his mental health. They wanted to make sure that he could get help before his situation got worse. However, because of the pandemic, therapists were overwhelmed with patients. 

Tom felt like a burden to his family and continued to take out his anger on them. With less social interaction during his recovery, he was desperate for someone who could make his life feel worthy again. However, the accessibility of therapists during the pandemic was tough - he had to wait months before even meeting with someone. When he finally met with someone, they only had availability over the phone in the early morning or late at night, which was not ideal. Tom did not feel like he could make a connection with his therapist through the phone and did not attend any more appointments. This continued to contribute to his depression and made his recovery much more difficult. Tom became unmotivated to continue to try and find the right therapist.

After months of being on a waitlist, Tom was given the opportunity to book an appointment with a therapist in person. This suited his recovery process better because he built trust with the person he was working with. By the time Tom went to university, he had the coping skills he needed to succeed. Tom continued in therapy throughout his bachelor’s degree in order to maintain his mental health.

With the right help from a therapist, Tom’s struggles could have been avoided and contained without pushing him to a breaking point. He continued struggling because of the stigma surrounding mental health, specifically for men. Tom’s mental health should have been taken as seriously as his physical health, which was attended to immediately and effectively. We can all help those we care about to get access to care when they need it. Advocating for therapy, reducing the stigma around men’s mental health, and prioritizing care when people need it most to make it more accessible for those we care about. 

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)


Canada

Kids Help Phone

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

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

Global

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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