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Mental Health Treatment Options for Youth

Pete Springer/OPB

Martin Rafferty was adopted when he was 11 years old. As you might guess, his life up to that point would win no prize for idyllic childhoods. He’s had a rough-and-tumble relationship with the mental health treatment system. Shortly after he was adopted, the Kip Kinkle school shooting happened at Springfield’s Thurston High School, in the same school district where Martin went to middle school. In the widespread mental health screenings that followed, Martin was diagnosed with depression, attention deficit disorder and bipolar disorder. He says the treatment was immediate and intense medication. That was not the kind of care that ultimately worked for Martin, and after about a year-and-a-half, he was able to get the kind of community-based treatment that he says made the difference.

Fast-forward a dozen years and Martin Rafferty now directs a youth organization that he started, modeled after one that helped him when he was in need. He says that, in part, Youth M.O.V.E. Oregon gives young people with mental illness leadership opportunities and advocacy skills. It puts them in places in the real world where they can have an impact, like advisory councils run by the Oregon Health Authority. He says it’s “peer delivered” services — in other words, young people reaching out to other young people — that are most effective. Partly, Martin says that’s because teens in particular are often skeptical of adult interference.

Family ties can also be vitally important for youth to recover. Margaret Puckette knows that from personal experience, and from talking to hundreds of parents over the years during the course of her work running a family support group, funded in part by Trillium Family Services. She’s also written a book called Raising Troubled Kids. She says sometimes the key to getting the right help for the teen is getting the right help for the parent.

Were you in need of treatment for mental illness when you were a youth? Have you or your child been treated for mental illness? Do you work with mentally ill youth? What works?

Editor’s Note: OPB News is airing a series this week on how the Northwest is dealing with youth who need mental health treatment. Be sure to tune in for the first installment during Morning Edition, at 6:50 a.m. Monday, November 21st, on OPB Radio or

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