NEW services aimed at providing a 'rapid response' to Dorset residents in a mental health crisis have been launched.

To mark World Mental Health Day today (10), Dorset Healthcare has announced a fresh approach to support people who are struggling to cope, heading towards a breakdown or even feeling suicidal.

Based on feedback from local people, the Access Mental Health service lets users define their own crisis and seek help without waiting for a referral from their GP.

Dorset Healthcare says the county is now one of the few areas in the country where residents can access round-the-clock help and advice over the phone and face-to-face support in the evenings.

Services include Connection, a 24/7 telephone helpline which can provide direct help or signpost users to a range of other services, The Retreat, a drop-in support service in Dorchester and Bournemouth open 4.30pm-midnight every day, and community front rooms - drop-in support services in Bridport and Shaftesbury open 3.15pm to 10.45pm Thursday to Sunday.

The Retreat and community front rooms are for people aged 18 and over, who can drop in without booking an appointment. People of any age can call Connection at any time.

Access Mental Health was developed following a consultation led by the NHS Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group with service users, staff and the wider public.

Sarah Rose, operations director with the Dorset Mental Health Forum, said: "People felt they were having to convince services they were poorly, and this approach moves us away from that. If someone is experiencing mental distress, they are the expert about how they are feeling, and they need someone to listen.

"Access Mental Health allows people to access the support they need on their own terms, whenever they need it. They can talk to mental health staff and peer specialists, people with their own experience of such issues, in a safe, non-judgemental space and find the solutions which can help them on the path to recovery."

The Bournemouth Retreat, the first part of Access Mental Health to open in April last year, has received almost 16,000 visits - around 30 people every day.

Dorset Healthcare says this level of demand highlights the need for a new approach.

Steve Jones, Dorset Healthcare’s mental health community services manager, said: "This is a really innovative approach, which has been co-designed with local people.

"You can still access our regular mental health services, but this provides more flexibility if you need help urgently – face-to-face support in the evenings, and someone at the end of a phone 24 hours a day."