At Think Ahead, we want to see a society where everyone with mental health problems can flourish.
That won’t happen unless people can improve their social circumstances – because life issues like relationships, living arrangements, and employment have profound effects on mental wellbeing.
To drive change we created the Think Ahead programme, one of the UK’s most competitive graduate schemes, to offer remarkable graduates and career-changers a new route into mental health social work.
See our graduate programme
Through the programme and our wider work, we attract talented people into mental health services, strengthen training, and spread social approaches to mental health across society.
Read our 2017 Impact Review
Read our 2019 Impact Update
Why mental health?
Mental health is an urgent national challenge. 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.
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. In 2015 the Care Quality Commission 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.
Why social work?
Leadership from social work is vital to meet the mental health challenge. Through talking 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.
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.
How we work
Everyone who is part of Think Ahead is guided by our values. They were developed in collaboration with the people who make up the Think Ahead movement – including programme participants, mental health and social work professionals, people with lived experience of mental ill-health, and supporters of our work.
In pursuing our goals, we each aim to be:
- Inspirational. We set ambitious goals, and we attract and lead others to achieve our vision.
- Inclusive. We respect everyone, build networks, and act in partnership.
- Genuine. We are honest with others, we seek feedback, and we reflect on ourselves.
- Determined. We stay on course, we set the right pace, and we don’t give up.
- Effective. We use evidence and innovation to find what works and get things done.
We embrace working with anyone who shares our goals and our values, and we aim to promote equality and diversity across all areas of our work – from the way we recruit participants and head office staff, to what we teach on our programme and how we design and deliver it. We believe that working with a diverse range of people and honouring different perspectives is not only the right thing to do, it also adds tremendous value – and is fundamental in working towards a society where everyone with mental health problems can flourish.
See our team
See our partners