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March 2017

Think Ahead research finds vital role of mental health social workers is misunderstood

At Think Ahead we recognise that mental health social workers play a crucial role in society, providing a lifeline for some of the most vulnerable people in the country. They’re the professionals who are able to work holistically with people with mental health problems, providing support with life issues like relationships, finances, living arrangements and employment – all of which have a profound effect on mental health.

We know that graduate job-seekers understand the positive impact they can have in mental health social work.

Ella Joseph, Think Ahead Chief Executive

However, research we’ve carried out to mark World Social Work Day has uncovered that, despite social workers’ importance, their role is quite misunderstood.

We commissioned a survey of the general public, and found that only two in five (41%) British adults think of social workers as important providers of mental health support – whereas 69% identified psychiatrists and 65% identified GPs.

There are also some common misconceptions about what the role involves. For example:

  • Only a third of people know that social workers are usually involved in deciding whether someone should be detained under the Mental Health Act (33%), or that they give evidence in legal proceedings (33%).
  • Less than half know that they can help to find accommodation (47%), get funding for people in financial difficulty (43%), or provide talking therapies (48%) as part of their core role.
  • Over a quarter mistakenly think that mental health social workers provide personal care like washing and dressing (27%), do household jobs like cooking and cleaning (29%), and provide childcare (30%).

You can read the findings, carried out by research company ComRes, here.

Our research was also covered by the Guardian’s David Brindle, who wrote: “Good social workers are invaluable. So let’s give them proper support,” and in Community Care, in an article titled “Social workers’ role in mental health ‘misunderstood’, finds survey.

At Think Ahead, we’re determined to shine a light on the great work people in this profession are doing. In response to this research our Chief Executive, Ella Joseph, said: “We know that graduate job-seekers understand the positive impact they can have in mental health social work, with over 20 applying for each place on Think Ahead’s training programme. Now we need to raise the public’s awareness of this vital profession – it’s time that social workers stopped being the unsung heroes of mental health.”

It’s clear that the government also recognises the importance and impact of this job. Commenting on the survey’s findings, David Mowat MP, Minister for Community Health and Care, said: “Social workers play a vital role in helping people lead more independent and fulfilling lives, which is why this government is committed to raising the status of the profession. Think Ahead is a key part of training the next generation of social workers – attracting the brightest and best into the profession and sparking rewarding careers.”

Lyn Romeo, the government’s Chief Social Worker for Adults, added: “Empowering individuals, families and communities to use their strengths to bring about positive change is a key and inspiring part of social work. As this report demonstrates, there is still more to do to communicate the crucial role of social workers, which is why I will continue to champion the work they do.”

Visit our About mental health social work page to find out more about the role, and visit our About the programme page to learn more about whether you could join the profession through the Think Ahead programme.