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Helping young people deal with the stigma of mental ill health – Dr Niklas Serning

Your mind is yours – you alone have the right to change it, you alone have the right to define it. At the same time, your mind is co-created with the people around you, with culture in society.

Off the Record Bristol has worked with young people in Bristol for 50 years now, and we are passionate about the power inherent in these two statements, passionate about respecting individual voices and responding to them.

As such, we’re moving away from an exclusively counsellor-client relationship with our service users, adding on more innovative services, more options where young people can create their own minds together with like minded ones.

If we do our job really well and create a space where strong young minds can be created, these strong young minds can and will create new, even better spaces for growth. And we look forward to the day they outgrow us, when we have true deep participation in local communities, projects that we could never have thought of, truly changing the reality of Bristol.

Our Mentality Project is an excellent example of this ethos.

Mentality is our award winning youth-led social action project that aims to challenge the stigma and discrimination surrounding young people’s mental health. They are also really interested in improving mental health services for young people, including at OTR, and are a strong and challenging voice to any status quo.

Mentality is made up of young volunteers aged 13 to 21 who have lived experience of mental health problems. The project offers training, support and accreditation, and supports volunteers to find their individual and collective voice, very much in line with our ethos of supporting young people finding their voices rather than speaking for them or, even worse, at them.

Young people volunteering on the Mentality Project outreach to schools, colleges and other youth settings across Bristol and South Gloucestershire. They deliver their training and workshops to thousands of young people and professionals each year.

Psychology student Ellie Tolson says of Off The Record Bristol:  “Charities like OTR are few and far between, and unless you have ever needed to use mental health services I think their importance is hugely underestimated.

“Being a third year undergraduate student studying psychology, I wanted to see how what I was learning in my lectures is used in practice, with real people and real situations, and OTR gave me the perfect opportunity to do exactly that.

“I was welcomed into the OTR family with open arms, and the atmosphere as soon as you walk through the door is like nothing I’ve seen before. It’s a lively, incredibly happy place to be where everyone is accepted all the same, regardless of their reasons for using the service.

“OTR has shown me a different side to mental health in comparison to the stigma that exists in society, and has opened my eyes to just how important such services are to so many young people. Although my time at OTR has been short, it has been more than sweet. What OTR offers and the way it helps change a young person’s life is amazing, and I am so proud to have been given the chance to be part of such an incredible organisation.”

  • Volunteers’ Week runs from 1-7 June 2015
  • Tomorrow we hear about the volunteers working at Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, from its Chief Executive Rob Music.

Off the Record BristolFounded in 1965 and now in our 50th year, our concern and work is focussed on the mental health and emotional wellbeing of children and young people aged 11-25 in Bristol and South Gloucestershire. We support over 1,500 individual young people a year, while our campaigns and social action work engages over 5,000 young people annually.


Dr Niklas Serning, Clinical Director of Off The Record Bristol, is a counselling psychologist and child psychotherapist. He has worked with children and young people for several years and in many roles as a counsellor, supervisor and manager. He teaches psychotherapy, ethics and sexuality at doctoral level, and also brings extensive experience from managing several United Nations operations in complex international emergencies.

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