The Think Ahead programme is a new route into social work, for graduates and career-changers remarkable enough to make a real difference to people with mental health problems.See our graduate programme
This section explains why we have set up the programme, and the partners we are working with.
We are creating leaders in mental health and social work
We are building a movement of leaders committed to transforming mental health through the power of social approaches. We are bringing exceptional people into mental health social work, pioneering better training, and creating a community of advocates in mental health services and across society.
Mental health is an urgent national priority
A quarter of adults have a mental health problem. Those amongst us facing mental illness urgently need better support, and enabling everyone to flourish will transform individuals’ wellbeing, improve our society, and boost our economy.
More on the mental health challenge
Mental illness is widespread. One in four adults in England have a mental illness, and a third of families include someone with a mental health problem. Overall, for people under 65, nearly 40% of all ill-health is caused by mental illness.
Improving people’s mental health can transform their lives. Without help, mental illness generally reduces life expectancy by as much as smoking – and people with the most serious mental illnesses die on average 20 years earlier than those without.
Better mental health helps families and friends, who take on great responsibilities supporting their loved ones. Between one third and two thirds of children whose parents have mental health problems go on to experience mental ill-health themselves.
And supporting people with mental illness is good for everyone in society. Overall, through its impacts on people’s physical health, wellbeing, and ability to work, mental ill-health costs the UK economy around £100bn a year.
But those of us facing mental illness urgently need better support. The Care Quality Commission recently found that just 48% of people who had interacted with community mental health teams felt that their concerns were listened to and taken seriously. Of the 100,000 people who die in England each year in avoidable circumstances, one in three have a mental illness.
You can see more about the impact of mental health problems on The mental health challenge.
Leadership from social work is vital to meet the mental health challenge
Through therapy, support, and advocacy, mental health social workers can empower people to manage the social factors in their lives—like relationships, housing, and employment—that enable them to get well and stay well.
More on social work and leadership
Mental health problems aren’t just medical conditions, and supporting people doesn’t just mean treating their symptoms. Helping people towards recovery means enabling them to lead independent and fulfilling lives, and in many cases to learn how to live with their symptoms.
Social workers focus on social factors—like housing, employment, and relationships with family and friends—that have a strong impact on mental health. A difficult social situation can be part of the root causes of mental illness, and improving the social factors in someone’s life can have a transformative effect.
Improving social factors is especially powerful in supporting people to achieve a sustainable recovery. Building resilience in individuals, their networks, and their communities helps people to not just get well, but stay well. By enabling individuals to live independently on a long-term basis, addressing social factors also reduces pressure on health and care services, and benefits our society and economy.
Great social workers are great leaders. Every day, mental health social workers need leadership skills to understand and inspire people, to make tough judgement calls about people’s rights, and to assert their views with other professionals.
Social workers also need to take a leading role in service design and innovation. By applying their unique expertise, social workers can make services better at building people’s resilience and achieving sustainable improvements in mental health.
You can read more about what mental health social workers do on About mental health social work.