Celebrating the strength and diversity of young adults with mental health challenges

5 Comments | Posted

In our continuing focus on the joy, brilliance, strength and fortitude of young adults who have had experience with receiving mental health services, I want to share with you one shining example of a youth-driven, stigma-smashing, positive approach to creating a safe space for young adults to express who they are.

ymo keep movingYouth M.O.V.E. (Motivating Others through Voices of Experience) Oregon (YMO) is a youth led, state-wide, ever-expanding 501(c) 3 non-profit organization that is dedicated to improving the services and systems that foster and promote the positive growth of Oregon’s transitional age youth and young adults (ages 14-25) by using peer support and uniting the voices of individuals who have lived through and experienced a vast array of obstacles with various state-run systems including (but not limited to) mental health, addiction/recovery, juvenile justice, incarceration, foster care, education, and child welfare. YMO provides community members with drop-in centers, youth support groups, and various trainings dedicated to helping at-risk youth and young adults.

Youth M.O.V.E. Oregon embodies all that is good about young adults who have experience with the mental health delivery system who choose to rise above the fray of stereotype and stigma and make their own mark on what works best for them - driven by their perspective and experience, not that of someone else. Fans of the Network know well that we love this kind of spirit and are most excited to share it.

Recently I had the opportunity to visit with Martin Rafferty, Executive Director of Youth M.O.V.E. Oregon to discuss their program, philosophy and approach to working with young adults. One of the things he said during our conversation that struck a chord with me was that in any of the five YMO locations throughout the state of Oregon anyone is welcome to participate. Even though the focus is on youth with emotional challenges, diagnostic criteria or stigmatizing labeling is never used and, quite frankly, is a non-issue. The focus is on building strengths and leadership so that youth can give back to their community. Sort of puts a different lens on things, doesn't it?

This multi-faceted youth-led organization does it all - from motivational speaking to workshops and training, consulting and technical assistance, all from a youth perspective. One of Rafferty's greatest wishes is for our nation to come to a point where "every story about the failures of the mental health system (which are often justly deserved) is accompanied by a story about examples of success. For it is success that we need to build on, not failure." Well-spoken Mr. Rafferty!

Here are just a few of the many accolades and accomplishments this young organization has earned in the past few years:

The Clackamas Drop
The Clackamas Drop, a YMO operated drop in center is the flagship of the program. The center has been so successful it is being replicated 300 miles away in Medford Oregon. The program in Medford is slated to open in early 2014. Peer services offered by YMO and other youth peer organizations have saved the county more than $100k a year, by estimates of Clackamas County Behavior Health. Most youth who initially enter the doors of the drop in center, have no idea that the location they are visiting offers mental health services. The focus of the center is on bridging services to young adults by being “Stigma Aware.” The staff that work for the drop in center are trained peer support specialists, yet without the large badge bearing the YMO logo you wouldn’t know they were staff. Rafferty describes the approach of staff at the Drop as "leading from behind."

The process for working with youth who visit the YMO Drop is straightforward and strengths-based:

 Silent Watch
Youth M.O.V.E. Oregon has a focus on reaching young adults who can't visit services directly. Compelling outreach includes creating videos, Hip Hop Style Art, and other multimedia projects. One of these campaigns is known as the Silent Watch, which is Youth M.O.V.E. Oregon's take on "inspirational" quotes, featuring a youth often wearing a black hoodie. The symbolism of the hood speaks to many young adults. This campaign has helped reached young adults from across the nation. Here are a couple of examples of Silent Watch posters. You can see them all on the Youth M.O.V.E. website.   

YMO slogan

ymo snap

What's ahead for 2014
The over 5,00 twitter and 3,000 facebook followers of YMO have much to look forward to in 2014. In addition to continuing to strengthen their outreach centers, YMO will be conducting a series of celebrity and policymaker interviews, beginning with Scott Adams, the artist behind Dilbert and a critically acclaimed author. In the interview Scott Adams will give tips to young adults on how to beat apathy in a seemingly bureaucratic world. We at the Network can't wait to read this interview!

Social media links
You can find Youth M.O.V.E. Oregon on the web at their website - http://youthmoveoregon.org, facebook - facebook.com/youthmoveoregon and twitter - twitter.com/youthmoveoregon.

Finally, enjoy this 15 minute documentary video that introduces you to what Youth M.O.V.E. Oregon stands for. It will give you just a hint why we are so excited about this up and coming generation of mental health advocates who refuse to be defined by a label.

We have so much work to do to turn the tide of misguided opinion about who youth with mental health challenges are. Youth M.O.V.E. Oregon is doing their part. What are you doing? Send us your examples of youth-driven efforts for young people with emotional challenges and we will profile them so the collective voice of the Network can learn, share, educate and advocate for our next generation of leaders.

Scott Bryant-Comstock
President & CEO
Children's Mental Health Network


  1. blcksight's avatar
    | Permalink
    ^^agree, agree. I met martin with his work on reachout.com its cool to see what he does in his day job.
  2. Denine Anderson-Regan's avatar
    Denine Anderson-Regan
    | Permalink
    I had the pleasure of listening to Martin speak at the Federation of Families Conference this year. He is an inspiring leader; the drop-in centers in Oregon sound terrific. I admire his perseverance, even when he heard lots of "nos". If you haven't followed him/them on social media, please do!
  3. Aaron "Foxx" Cozad's avatar
    Aaron "Foxx" Cozad
    | Permalink
    I remember the first time I heard of Youth M.O.V.E. Oregon. I was living in Grants Pass, Oregon and I had just began my journey as a Peer Support Specialist with Options for Southern Oregon. I attended YMO's Peer Delivered service Provider Training and I knew I wanted to be a part of this movement!

    less than six months later I left for the big city with dreams of becoming a part of YMO. I really had no idea what I was in for. After moving up state to the big city (everyone else calls it Portland" I was able to experience what Youth M.O.V.E. was all about! Having been raised in a small retirement town I was often looked down on for my alternative appearance and lifestyle, but Youth M.O.V.E. didn't just treat me like some kid who had been through the mental health system that had struggled with substance abuse; they saw me as a Young adult that had grown from his experiences and overcome the stigma that comes with being an alum of the systems of care.

    It was amazing to see how they not only reach out but they empower youth to become creators and advocates within their own lives!

    After attending a few of YMO's workshops I was hooked! I knew I wanted to be able to help reshape the systems that I had been through and they taught me that my experiences could be used to benefit my peers.

    February of last year I went from being a Youth of YMO to an Employee. Even more exciting I began work with Youth M.O.V.E. Washington County as a Wraparound Support Partner. This was an amazing experience for me, to be able to be an advocate and support for youth involved in systems of care! It was amazing to be able to give back. I remember when I was a Youth receiving services and not knowing which way to turn, who to talk to or how to get help if I needed it. For a small town youth like me I never could have dreamed such an organization could exist. It was stunning to me that I was hired because of my experiences! I always thought growing up that there was nothing out there for youth like me. Whether it is small town nowhere or the big town somewhere YMO is there and always reaching out to and empowering youth in need!
  4. Sarah's avatar
    | Permalink
    I saw this from the c.a.f.e.t.y post. i live in Oregon and found out about youth move oregon by seeing a banner on a bridge. I was't going to kill myself but it really helped me to something hopeful on a bridge that is literally hell. then I watched the homeless youth video on facebook and it made me a lifelong fan.
  5. Iden's avatar
    | Permalink
    I am so proud of these young people, when I grow up I want to change the world like YM.O.V.E!
    1. Leave a Comment