I've kept the full story of why I started Mentaya private until now. But after receiving encouragement from my team, I'm ready to share my story.
Christine Li, Founder & CEO of Mentaya
October 7, 2023
When people ask why I started Mentaya, I usually give a vague answer like "I've always been interested in mental health." I've never shared the full story publicly because I was afraid of saying something wrong or being seen as exploitative. But I'm finally ready to share.
I first met Jessie* in an English class. She was the effortlessly cool sophomore, yet with a warmth to her that immediately drew me in. As a freshman who had just moved to a new city and didn’t know anyone, I was eager to befriend her, and we quickly hit it off. At some point, I asked her if she had any siblings, which inexplicably led to sharp looks from my classmates. It wasn't long before I learned the painful truth – Jessie's brother, Vincent*, had recently taken his own life.
Over the years, Jessie and I became good friends, going on late-night drives up to Skyline Vista Point to watch the city from above and wandering the streets of downtown together. I’m ashamed to admit that throughout this time we never once talked about Vincent. I generally avoided all topics related to him and basically pretended that I was completely oblivious to what had happened. There were a few times where I almost brought it up – I wanted to tell her that I was there for her if she wanted to talk about it, but I just didn’t know how to even begin that conversation. I didn’t want to again say something that was awkward, or worse, offensive.
Every time I went to Jessie’s house, a giant photo of Vincent stared down at me in the living room, silently challenging me to acknowledge him. It was a stark reminder of the unspoken truth.
Sadly, teen suicide was not uncommon where we lived. My high school even made national news for it, showing the local Caltrain tracks where several teenagers had taken their lives. Despite all this, no one seemed to know how to discuss suicide openly. Rumors swirled that our school administration was concerned that giving too much attention to these students who ended their lives might inadvertently inspire "copycats."
Looking back, I am sad and disappointed in the lack of support and high quality information that was available to us. I wonder what could have been different if we had more mental health resources, open conversation, and support for those battling depression, suicidal thoughts, and those affected by suicide – both directly and indirectly.
We’ve made a lot of progress in mental health since then, especially around de-stigmatizing and normalizing therapy. But we still have a long way to go.
I’m building Mentaya with the hopes of creating a world in which therapy is accessible to everyone, in a way that eases the burden on our tireless front line workers: therapists.
*Note: Names used in this article have been changed to maintain privacy.
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