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April 2020

Rapid report: How mental health social workers are responding to the coronavirus pandemic

We have today published a new report about how mental health services, and the social workers within these teams, are responding to the coronavirus pandemic. The report, which is based on a series of interviews, explains the challenges services and professionals are facing, and how mental health teams are transforming their work to provide the best possible care during these unprecedented times. It also highlights examples of good practice that we’ve heard about from across the country.

Read the report 

Why we produced this report

The coronavirus pandemic creates increased risks for the physical and mental health of everyone in society, therefore increasing pressure on mental health services. Among those who are working hard to support people with severe mental health problems during this time are social workers and social work trainees – a group of professionals who are defined as key workers by the Government and the regulator Social Work England.

As an organisation that  works closely with mental health services to help them unlock the potential of social work, we wanted to understand more about how teams and services are adapting their vital work. And we thought it would be useful to share what we learnt.

We hope that by outlining the challenges encountered by social workers and their teams, and highlighting creative and effective examples of how they are responding, this report will be useful for practitioners, policy makers, system leaders, and anyone who is interested in what is happening in frontline mental health services.

How we did it

Between 27 March and 17 April 2020 we carried out interviews with 36 professionals, including frontline practitioners, Consultant Social Workers (experienced social workers who lead teams of Think Ahead trainees carrying out frontline work), and Think Ahead’s Practice Specialists (experienced social workers who liaise with frontline services). They told us about experiences in 33 (mostly community) mental health services located across 8 regions of England.

While this is a reasonable spread, it is not fully representative – so our report can only be considered a snapshot of a rapidly evolving situation.

What we found

Our findings span a broad range of topics – from changing roles and team restructures, to the challenges and opportunities of remote working, and ways of harnessing trainees’ potential to contribute while ensuring they can progress their learning.

In summary, social workers told us that:

  • Services are reconfiguring roles and teams to prepare for dramatically increased pressures.
  • Teams are embracing remote working, but digital contact with service users creates real challenges.
  • Only the most at-risk service users are getting face-to-face support.
  • Some ongoing support and interventions can be continued remotely.
  • New forms of support for service users are being introduced to respond to the pandemic.
  • Supporting staff welfare is requiring new ways of working.
  • Trainees are making valuable contributions, whilst maintaining their progress towards qualification.

To get a more detailed understanding of how mental health services are adapting in each of these areas, read or download the full report here

Many thanks to all the social workers across the country who made this report possible by lending us their time. We hope this report will be useful for individuals and organisations across the sector, and we welcome any feedback on it – please send any comments to