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July 2018

“Lift your head up and see how you can make wider changes” – New participants embark on their journey

This week marked the beginning of an exciting time for Think Ahead and the 103 participants in our third intake as they embarked on their two-year journey to become mental health social workers.

Participants are today completing the first week of the Summer Institute, a six-week residential learning experience which gives them a grounding in approaches to mental health social work. The Institute is delivered in collaboration with the University of York, the University of Central Lancashire, service users and leading figures in mental health and social work.

“Over the next six weeks and the next two years there are going to be intense and challenging days for you but they’re going to be really exciting as well,” Recruitment Director Ivan Wise told participants at Sunday’s Opening Night. “You’re going to need to work hard and you’re going to learn a lot from this programme […] you’re going to be in a position where you can really effect change in people’s lives.”

The first week gave participants a comprehensive introduction to social work, including teaching sessions on social perspectives on mental health and social determinants, social pedagogy, and stigma and discrimination.

Participants also had the opportunity to meet and ask questions of two of Think Ahead’s trustees, Professor Dame Carol Black and Professor Sir Julian Le Grand. Speaking about the importance of mental health social work and his reasons for supporting Think Ahead, Sir Julian explained, “Social workers have the ability to mitigate and improve the impact that social factors have.”

During the Q&A session the trustees and Co-Chief Executive Natalie Acton shared some advice with participants, encouraging them to effect change on a wider level and to be confident in making the case for mental health social work. “It’s important to do your day jobs really well, but also lift your head up and see how you can make wider changes,” Natalie said.

Dame Carol emphasised the contribution social workers can make in multi-disciplinary teams: “If you happen to disagree [with your colleagues], you should stand your ground politely and firmly… I’ve always felt that everyone has their part to play. Other people in the team can teach me things and hopefully I can teach them something.”

She said, “Lives can be turned around – but it does require people who have great knowledge of mental health and social determinants.”

Over the next five weeks, participants will learn about mental illness and its causes, the legal and policy framework for social work, and the interventions they will deliver as practitioners, before joining their NHS Trust or Local Authority.