Firms have been challenged to step up as young people's mental health in West Cumbria hits crisis point.

Members of We Will, set up by youngsters to campaign for change in the way that youth mental health is dealt with, spoke at a business event today, held to coincide with this week's World Mental Health Day.

They told the 100-plus delegates from companies at This is Me: "There is a young people's mental health crisis in West Cumbria and this needs to be addressed now. What can you do to help?

"We need your support to improve mental health. How can you support young people in your workplace?"

The group, made up of 14 to 18-year-olds from Netherhall School in Maryport and Cockermouth School, showed the audience one of its short films, Boy, created to help break down the barriers for their peers to talk about mental health.

They said they had carried out years of research into the mental health issues faced by their age group.

They added: "NHS referrals have quadrupled in a year and young people are waiting 15 months for help. There are no inpatient mental health beds in Cumbria and schools have little access to counsellors. We are starting to see an improvement, but we still need to make a difference. Next year, we have big plans."

Organised by This is Me Cumbria, backed by Sellafield Ltd, Cumbria Constabulary, BAE Systems, Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and Barclays, the event at Energus at Lillyhall was attended by more than 100 representatives from firms across Cumbria.

The theme was young people transitioning into the world of work from school.

Ian Burns, of BAE Systems in Barrow, talked about the issues staff at the shipyard faced – including drug addiction, fractured families, financial pressures, unrealistic career progression goals and social anxiety

Mr Burns said: "We are safeguarding eight per cent of the workforce at any one time. This year, we have opened 79 cases and closed 80 but I think we are looking at double that number as it still goes under-reported.

"People are afraid to say they have issues, because they believe it will impact on their careers.

"Businesses look at the impact of stress-related issues to do with absences, but that is not the largest impact. The largest impact is on the workers who are in work, struggling and maybe unaware they have an issue or are struggling in silence."

The shipyard has several ways for workers to get help, including mental health first aiders, a website and campaigns.

Also speaking at the event were Michael Boaden, of Carlisle Eden Mind, Kath Walker, business systems lead at nucleargraduates, David Wilson, of the University of Cumbria, and Ethan Cohen, of accountancy firm PwC.

Alan Rankin, one of the organisers of the event, said: "We hope the event has inspired people to share best practice and make it okay to not be okay.

"Making sure you are looking after your workers' mental health. It's an investment not a cost. Everyone should look at the amount you spend on absences and covering absences versus what they spend on wellbeing. Do that calculation."