Lives could be lost this Christmas if desperate people cannot access mental health services.

The NHS must now clearly and widely advertise the service available over the Christmas and New Year period and according to Maryport Hug a Mug and the teenage group, We Will, who have both won community heroes awards for their campaigning and support of people with mental health and other needs.

The Cumbria NHS Foundation Partnership confirmed this week that there is no dedicated helpline for people in urgent need of support. They must depend on GPs including the out of hours service and charities including MIND and the Samaritans.

Ann-Marie Steel from Hug a Mug and Kate Whitmarsh head of the Ewanrigg Local Trust said they are “truly concerned” not only that there is no direct NHS help for people not yet in the system but also because of some of the horror stories they have heard.

Mrs Steel said: "Through the work that I have been doing delivering Youth Mental Health First Aid training across the area and supporting We Will it’s clear that not enough people know who to call when at their most vulnerable. We want everyone to know what to do in a mental health crisis and have asked Cumbria NHS trust for clarity about where to go."

Examples of the problem include a desperate Workington girl aged 16, contacted the Times & Star.

She said she was contemplating suicide and rang the Children and Adolescent Mental Health number only to hear a recording suggesting she should go to A&E. She was home alone with no way of getting there even if she wanted to

There have been report, too, of doctors holding for long periods of time when trying to contact the mental health crisis team. One patient had a two hour wait in a GP surgery before staff were able to get through to the crisis team.  Last Friday a man in his 30s said he had a five-hour wait before he was able to contact the Crisis team.

A Maryport woman who suffers psychotic episodes told she was sent to a halfway house in Whitehaven despite telling crisis workers that she had not slept for three days and required medication and admission to the Yewdale ward at the West Cumberland.

It was only when she sat in the middle of the road, screaming, and was taken to hospital by Police that she received one day of the treatment she had asked for, slept the night and was able to go home.

"I have had these episodes before when i don't sleep. I think they thought I was on drugs. They obviously had no notes about my case."

A woman working in mental health, who would not be identified, said: “My experience with mental health services in Cumbria, is that there are very long waiting times and they don’t appear to be keen to do anything straight away. I think that it’s very difficult to know what their definition of a crisis is."

An NHS spokeswoman acknowledged that Christmas and New Year could be difficult times and urged anyone who felt they needed help to access services sooner rather than later.

" If you feel you need support you are able to access any of the organisations below (refer to info box with details of support listed below within article please) or you can make an appointment with your GP. Over the festive period there is 24 /7 GP access through Cumbria Health on Call."

She confirmed that the NHS in Cumbria is not commissioned to provide a helpline for patients however for people who are currently using our services then as part of their ongoing care package they are given information about how to access help if they need it.

"For anyone in mental health crisis the NHS has mental health professionals available 24/7 throughout the year who can be accessed by any healthcare professional, the police or ambulance services directly or through hospital services and this service is not reduced throughout the festive period.

"The Trust is committed to continual learning and if anyone is unhappy with the service they have received we would urge you to contact our patient experience team who can investigate your complaint thoroughly so that we can make improvements.”

What you can do:

If someone is talking about suicide, take it seriously and encourage them to talk and seek help.

If someone has attempted suicide, call 999 and stay with them until the ambulance arrives.

If you are worried that someone is at immediate risk of taking their own life, it's best to stay with them and take one of these steps: ring their GP or out of hours service for an emergency appointment .

Contact their Community Mental Health Team (CMHT) or Crisis Team if they have one

Encourage them to ring Samaritans on freephone 116 123 (24 hours a day)

Go to the nearest Accident and Emergency (A&E) department

Call 999 or NHS Direct on 111  

Ring Cumbria Mindline 0300 561 0000 (not 24 hrs a day)

For a list of resources that first step and other agencies offer see

For children and young people resources can be found here