Social worker - mental health
Social Service & Guidance

Most social workers encounter people with mental health problems at some time during their everyday work. They give advice and practical support, and may arrange support services for their clients.

With further training, social workers can specialise in caring for people who have been diagnosed with mental health problems, making sure that they can be treated and supported in the community.

Work Activities

Mental health social workers give advice and practical support. They also arrange for people with mental health problems to be supported by services like day centres, home care assistants, supported accommodation and self-help schemes.

Social workers assess their clients to find out what their needs are. They also consider factors such as the client's social background. For example, they may discover that social factors like unemployment, financial worries or inadequate housing have contributed to the client's ill health.

The social worker may be able to give practical support and advice to help the client deal with this type of problem. For example, they may plan support services like counselling and advice, or help the client with a housing or benefit problem.

Some social workers specialise in the care of people who are based in psychiatric hospitals. This can include working with people who have acute mental health problems.

Social workers in a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) help children and young people who have mental health issues.

With further training, mental health social workers can become Approved Mental Health Professionals (AMHPs). The role of an AMHP is to try to make sure people with mental health problems can be treated and supported in the community. They may also give support and guidance to the patient's family.

AMHPs have the power to arrange the compulsory admission of people to hospital. This is a last resort, taken by the AMHP in consultation with other mental healthcare professionals, if they consider a person to be a risk to themselves or others.

Personal Qualities and Skills

Key skills

  • Ability to listen carefully and empathise when necessary.
  • Gain the trust of people from all kinds of backgrounds.
  • Be flexible and adaptable.
  • Assess needs and circumstances.
  • Communicate clearly, both orally and in writing.
  • Gather, analyse and understand information.
  • Be observant, read situations and identify problems.
  • Be non-judgemental and avoid imposing solutions.
  • Act quickly and calmly, eg, if a child is at risk from abuse or neglect.
  • Work through conflict sensitively and come up with effective solutions.
  • Work well under pressure.
  • Have a positive attitude when you are faced with difficulties.
  • Make difficult decisions at times.
  • Strong negotiation skills.
  • Good team skills, to work closely with other professionals.
  • Resilience, so you don't become burdened by the problems you encounter.
  • The ability to manage and prioritise your own workload.
  • The IT skills required to produce reports.
  • Knowledge and understanding of the local resources available to help the people you work with.
  • To be open to suggestions for how the service you provide can be improved.
  • The ability to face the emotional and intellectual demands of the job.

Pay And Opportunities

Employers are local authority social services departments and the NHS.

Social workers may work with people who have mental illnesses in a variety of settings. These include psychiatric hospitals, field social work teams, day centres and supported housing.


Entry routes and training

Entry to social work is via a three-year degree in social work, which is delivered in a variety of taught modules, with approximately 200 days spent on practical placement.

You will usually need to have some experience - paid or voluntary - of working with people in need to get a place on a degree course.

Completion of the degree entitles you to register with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) as a social worker.

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