A LEADING Stourbridge youth worker has warned the region could be facing a mental health crisis for young people.

Julie Duffy, chief officer at the What? Centre in Coventry Street, blames the effects of the economic squeeze for a dramatic increase in depression among people under 25.

With state services under pressure from spending cuts, staff at the centre have seen a sharp rise in referrals, with up to a quarter of their weekly case load now taken up by mental health issues.

Mrs Duffy, who recently celebrated 25 years service at the centre, said: "GPs are referring from right across the borough, including people who have been trying to commit suicide.

"With regards to mental health so many are suffering due to not being able to find work or family problems, it's an epidemic."

She added low self-esteem can push young people into a destructive cycle of drink and drug abuse that becomes a treadmill which is hard to get off.

Mrs Duffy said: "A lot of young people haven't got basic skills and some need a lot more support and confidence building.

"It is bleak for people who don't have the right skills - its a big challenge for young people and more needs to be done."

The What? Centre itself faced an uncertain future when Dudley Council withdrew funding back in 2010 but, following nearly 12 months on the breadline, the project avoided closure after getting a lottery grant of nearly £300,000.

Mrs Duffy has now gained an MBA in business and is using her skills to plan for the centre's long-term future without local authority support and she has a clear message for council leaders.

She said: "We work at the coal face with young people and see what they need. I would like politicians to come and see for themselves, to spend some time here and talk to us to see what we do - what have they got to lose?"