Social workers who specialise in mental health issues will always be in great demand in the UK. Whilst the majority of social work positions are within the NHS, there are numerous opportunities in the private sector too. If this is the type of work that interests you, you need to understand that your primary duty will involve helping clients who are having difficulties with their daily life due to their mental health issues.
As a social worker, you will almost certainly encounter a wide variety of mental health problems, including:
- Bipolar disorder
- Personality disorders
Often, these mental health issues are connected to addiction, homelessness or physical illness.
Nevertheless, even in the face of such difficulties, you should still be able to help your clients enjoy an independent and rewarding lifestyle.
Now, what type of services do mental health social workers provide?
Duties and responsibilities of a mental health social worker
1. Build and maintain relationships
As you will be expected to visit your clients on a regular basis – in their private home, a care home or a hospital – it is important to gain their trust, and listen to and understand their needs. Furthermore, you should build relationships with their relatives, friends and carers as this will give you a valuable insight into their background.
2. Safeguard patients’ rights
As a healthcare professional, it is essential that you understand the laws that uphold your clients’ rights. In fact, you may even need to act as an advocate for them, especially if their rights are not being respected. To help you in this endeavour, make sure you familiarise yourself with the following legislation:
- The Care Act
- The Human Rights Act
- The Mental Capacity Act
- The Mental Health Act
You may also have to participate formally in Mental Health Act tribunals.
3. Offer guidance and therapy
When talking and working with your clients, try to fully understand their situation, and if possible help resolve any issues. You may be able to find ways of moving forward by:
- Supporting them as they seek to find stability in their lives
- Helping them set and achieve their goals
For instance, you can support a client when they set goals to establish and maintain a positive relationship with their family and friends. With appropriate guidance and therapy, you can provide your clients with the tools needed to achieve their objectives.
4. Coordinate the necessary support and care
According to this article, you should assess your clients’ needs in order to create a unique plan tailored to their circumstances. Your strategy should also involve other colleagues who work with your clients to ensure they receive appropriate support and treatment. You can offer targeted support by taking the following steps:
- Help provide funds to clients for their direct expenses (e.g., going to work or visiting loved ones)
- Consult with relevant healthcare professionals, including nurses and doctors
- Request assistance from other services, such as charities, the local council or the police
5. Ensure the safety of your clients and other people
One of your most important duties is to ensure the safety of your clients and those around them. With this in mind, you should assess them on an individual basis and determine whether they:
- Pose a danger to themselves
- Face the risk of being abused or neglected by their relatives or carers
If you believe they are in some sort of danger, you must take appropriate steps to ensure their safety. In addition, you can expect to spend some of your working day responding to crisis situations; for instance, one of your clients may experience a sudden deterioration in their mental health. In this scenario, you will need to render immediate assistance until their condition improves or the emergency services arrive.
6. Enhance community services
There may be times when you can contribute some ideas to your local community. This may involve:
- Proposing new social services or changing existing ones
- Assisting in the design and implementation of new social initiatives
What are your career prospects?
A social worker specialising in mental health should acquire the requisite knowledge and skills to lead. This means you need to find ways to:
- Inspire others
- Make difficult decisions
- Communicate your assessments and views to other healthcare professionals
You can develop and test your leadership skills by pursuing the following three career paths.
1. Assume a frontline role
If you are interested in frontline work, consider specialising in a specific area, such as working with the elderly or young people. You may also be able to progress to other positions, such as:
- Approved mental health professional (AMHP)
- Approved mental capacity professional (AMCP)
2. Take a management role
You can pursue a career in management with either the NHS or the private sector. To prepare for such a role, you should begin by managing teams and taking more responsibility until you can achieve your ultimate goal.
3. Apply your social work experience to other careers
As a mental health social worker, you will undoubtedly possess useful leadership skills and experience. They can prove invaluable should you decide to pursue other careers or work opportunities; for example, in academia.
Social workers who wish to specialise in the mental health sector will need to understand the duties and responsibilities involved. This line of work can open several viable career doors. You can strive for promotion within your organisation or find other promising areas of work, such as academic fields. Whatever career path you choose, it is imperative that you obtain leadership skills and experience as this will be useful as you progress to frontline or management roles.
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