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October 2016

“This is the place to come if you want to change the world”

We spoke to Paul Farmer, CEO of Mind, about the challenges in mental health and the value of social workers.

What made you want to work in mental health?

I started to see the importance of mental health at a personal level when I was young – a member of my family had mental health problems which were undiagnosed, so I lived with that while I was growing up. Then when I was at university a good friend became very unwell and was sectioned. Nobody really knew what was happening or what to do.

When I left university my first job was working as a media officer with the Samaritans. Through that, and my personal experiences, I became very passionate about mental health. I think it’s an area where we can and do make a difference.

How do you feel about public attitudes to mental health?

Slowly but surely, the stigma around mental health is beginning to disappear. People are becoming more open, it’s being talked about more publicly in the media, and as that happens we’re seeing more clearly the scale of people’s needs. There’s a very real necessity to provide help and support.

What do you think the important issues are at the moment? 

There are three big challenges in mental health right now. We need to be able to prevent problems from developing, by getting people to think about their mental health in the same way that they think about their physical health. We must get help to people who are in crisis quickly. And we need to enable people to lead fulfilling lives while living with mental health problems.

How do you view social workers?

Mental health social work is a job that’s overlooked and undervalued. Social work has not always had great press, but often people tell us that the support they really need and value is from their social worker. The things that people say are really important to them – like relationships and friendships – are related to their social circumstances.

One of the unique things about mental health is the need for a multi-disciplinary approach – and one of the recommendations in the government’s Five-Year Forward View for Mental Health was to create a proper multi-disciplinary workforce strategy. People need teams of professionals with different skills to support them in different ways, and there’s a vital role for social workers in that approach.

How do you think people view working in mental health?

I feel hugely hopeful and encouraged that charities like Mind and Think Ahead are spreading awareness that working in mental health is a rewarding career choice. We’re getting people to see that this is the place to come if they want to change the world. I’m a great supporter of Think Ahead – it’s exciting because it’s shining a light on mental health social work in a very positive way.