By: Martin Rafferty

"I'd just as soon kiss a Wookie." That quote from Princess Leia communicates perfectly the response youth gave me when I invited them to this year’s CMHD (Children’s Mental Health Day) webinar by SAMHSA.

Ouch. It’s actually the best offering I have ever seen from SAMHSA who scored an amazing appearance of Michael Phelps to appear on a nationally broadcast webinar for CMHD.  Year after year, the best we have seen from our national leaders has been an appealing theme and some talking points.  Not even Youth M.O.V.E. National has been able to offer the kind of quality seen in other movements to its participating chapters.

Do I sound like a hater? Do you feel the urge to yell out “TRAITOR” than click here!

“Easy to Criticize, hard to Create” was something my adopted Mother slammed into me, time after time. And while I applaud the effort and hope it continues, I want to show you why youth empowerment isn’t a gimmick, but is a Force all in it’s own. We have gotten complaints from our most loyal youth for years at how having an event like CMHD on a school day, during a school time and that was mostly made up of “boring speakers” (including many of Oregon’s politicians and I admit myself). Year after year we lined up like a good trooper and got it done.

This year, when we found out that CMHD would fall on May 4th, one of our young adults cringed out the line “May the 4th be with you” as sarcastically as possible. That got us all thinking about the possibility of combing a franchise that starred one of Hollywood’s greatest Mental Health advocates, Carrie Fisher with our traditional celebration. Here was the result:


We wanted to have true celebrations that didn’t pay time towards boring speeches or be obedient towards any national theme. We also wanted to attack all of the core problems, so we gave young people a choice, wear a fun mask while getting a photo taken, or not. This means that young people who might feel the stigma behind standing with the term mental health (no matter how decorated by the show stealing theme of Star Wars).

The results were very positive. I spoke with a youth and a staff, blatantly asking them to give me the best and worst thing about this years celebration versus last years. Here are their words, unedited:

Youth: This year was just about fun. I wasn’t going to go if we had to drive to Salem (which would be 8 hours in the car). The bad side was that I miss how all of us (other state chapters) couldn’t get together this year, that was the one CON.

The staff member spoke more

How was it better:

  • More youth driven. The youth were super excited about the star wars theme and it was in many ways more engaging than having them listen to speeches by legislators, etc. 
  • Ability to involve more youth - we had nearly 30 youth attend, whereas last year we were only about to bring about 10 youth to the capitol
  • It had a more celebratory/community feeling - which in of itself was destigmatizing as it felt less solemn/formal/ceremonial than last years'

How was it worse:

  • Maybe lost focus on mental health too much - in retrospect, I would probably plan some time for youth to share their stories or do an open mic or something, as that seemed to be really valuable for them last year in Salem? The poster held in the photo shoot was one of the only nods to mental health focus of the event and I would like to bring it more to the forefront in the future, while still keeping things non-stigmatized - would need to brainstorm more on that
  • In a way the event in Salem was a cool way for youth to feel a part of YMO as a larger organization/feel a part of a larger MOVEMENT for mental health awareness in general - but then what is lost is the ability for more youth to be involved, so it's kind of a tradeoff

At the very least this year was a great memory for some young people who don’t get to celebrate very often, at the very most we have learned some very valuable lessons. Next year? What do you think? How could we combine the best of both worlds? Phelps and Skywater? May the 4th be with you always..