Last year I responded to a tweet asking if a photographer could take photos of an event which was being held by a mental health charity called Off The Record. I had no real idea of what they did except that it was all about young people.
I was diagnosed with depression when I was 15 years though I had my first episode at the age of 11. When I was referred to a psychiatrist the appointment was at a psychiatric hospital which also serves as a secure unit. Because it is a secure unit doors are opened and locked one at a time and it felt like I was never going to be let out at the end of my allotted hour. The psychiatrist, who was not specifically trained to work with adolescents, told me that all my problems stemmed from sex. I was 15 years old, a virgin and we had not discussed sex during the consultation. My chair was of a height that meant I had to look up to him over the edge of his desk at all times. I was there as a voluntary patient and I decided not to return to see him.
When I was 17 I was given an appointment with a psychiatrist who ran a unit at the hospital I’d previously visited but this time she was trained to work with adolescents. She decided that all my problems stemmed from my family’s financial situation even though we never discussed it at the appointment and the treatment she prescribed amounted to whole days at the hospital – locked in the hospital for a whole day. I wasn’t considered ill enough to have what would now be termed as counselling but had to hang around the whole day for the compulsory “fun” we had to have together and the group therapy session after lunch. Lunch was, by the way, soft foods we have to eat with a plastic spoon off a paper plate because we weren’t trusted with crockery or cutlery. Group therapy was simply having the whole group tell one person at a time how awful they were. Locked in for a whole day at a time to be told constantly that you were totally worthless.
I was interested to see how Off The Record operated as I’d been told that things had changed considerably in 40 years and that things were really different. Different they are. The biggest difference, at first sight, was that all the young people were taking the lead for the evening and that they worked together as a group. That impressed me and the welcome they gave me as I took photos that evening was really great.
Last night I went to Off The Record‘s 50th birthday party and it was probably one of the nicest parties I’ve ever been to. I not only took photos I interviewed people using @chhirp, an app that lets you take 12 second recordings and tweet them. What these revealed that people past and present really and truly love Off The Record. There is no half heartedness about it, it is highly regarded as a positive and empowering organisation. People right across the board told me that it was firmly rooted in equality, support and positivity. The young people don’t sit back and be told what to do, they lead along with the staff.
Within minutes of me walking in I’d been added on Facebook by three young women, so young they could easily have been my grandchildren but it was proof of the equality and openness that they brought to and infused in Off The Record.
People often praise organisations and on further examination things aren’t as positive as they claim to be but Off The Record really is as good as people say it is. If you dig below the surface you just keep hitting gold, there is no pay dirt or soil there at all!
I can honestly and happily say on the record that Off The Record is what I needed as a teenager and I’m delighted that it’s there and moving in to it’s sixth decade. It is something that all who have been involved with over the years can really be proud off and I really can’t wait to be invited to take the next set of photos!