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March 2021

What is Social Work?

It is Social Work Week in England. A chance to celebrate the invaluable contribution social workers are making to people’s lives every day.

But what does “social work” actually mean? There is no short answer.

Or perhaps there is; it is about life and levelling the playing field of life. Enabling people to push past their hurdles when life is beyond tough.

In reality, mental health social work can mean any number of things. Encouraging someone who experiences anxiety or panic attacks to build their confidence up enough to leave the house properly for the first time in years (as Jackie’s moving story shows). Ringing numerous housing providers for temporary housing support and a safe roof to put over someone’s head who needs to move fast. Or gently enabling someone to form a new network and friendships, after being estranged and disconnected from society because of their illness.

At the heart of it all is the building of trust, strong working relationships and a quest for social justice. Helping people navigate life with their mental illness, whilst challenging stigma, discrimination and promoting social change.

A society where everyone with mental problems can flourish

At Think Ahead, we want to see a society where everyone with mental health problems can flourish. That won’t happen unless people are supported to improve their social circumstances as well as their health, making the role of a mental health social worker absolutely vital.

Mental health problems aren’t just medical conditions and supporting people doesn’t just mean treating their symptoms. Helping people towards long-term 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. Improving the social factors in someone’s life can be transformational. And building resilience in individuals, their networks, and their communities helps people to not just get well but stay well.

So again, there’s no short answer to what “social work” means but we’ll do our best to help show you this week. Keep an eye on our website and social media for stories from the experts themselves: our programme participants and alumni.

A big thank you for all they do, and happy Social Work Week everyone.