How do social workers support the mental health of individuals and their communities?



Social workers support people who are experiencing problems with their mental health in several ways. However, the aim is always to empower the client and their family, making it possible for them to live a fulfilling life and be independent. They also work to maintain social cohesion in communities by acting as an advocate for residents.

Why is community mental health so important?

Research has shown that when residents feel connected and united, their mental health tends to be more robust. According to one study: “evidence…suggests that neighborhood social environments, including strong social cohesion, could have a protective effect on mental health”. Therefore, when social workers can bring people together to act as a group, they also support better mental health outcomes.

How social workers can enhance a community

Unmet community needs might be related to healthcare, education, or something such as an unreliable water supply. Social workers in the local area can help to get the existing services changed or propose and manage a range of initiatives that help to meet the community’s needs. To do so, they will collaborate with community groups, local services, and non-profits.

Being a community champion

Aside from general community problems, there may be residents who are trying to manage illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. If they are left without support, they could be overwhelmed by their condition, even if they have a loving family and caregivers to provide assistance. This can lead to their mental health problems becoming worse, and eventually, they may develop an addiction, become homeless or experience a physical illness.

A duty to individuals and their caregivers

In addition to seeing their individual clients, social workers can also provide or arrange for groups or families to have therapy sessions together. The exact method of delivery will depend on the circumstances being faced. If you feel passionate about helping people in your local community, you could train to take on one of the many roles of a social worker with a Master’s of Social Work degree at Florida State University. Their College of Social Work runs several part-time courses which can be taken online to suit the needs of busy working professionals.

Teamwork is used to deliver services

Whatever a social worker’s scope of practice they will function as part of a team to tackle the mental health needs of communities and individual clients. These multidisciplinary professional groups have a social worker at the helm, as they are the ones who are closest to the clients in need and have in-depth knowledge of their issues. They will be assisted in their work by nurses, physicians, psychologists, and support workers. When called on, each person will help either directly with client care or indirectly in an advisory capacity.

What kind of mental health problems do social workers assist with?

On a day-to-day basis, social workers encounter clients who are dealing with a variety of mental health issues. These could encompass eating disorders, personality disorders, schizophrenia, or extreme anxiety. Although many people will experience a low level of mental health distress from time to time, these more serious disorders can have a more significant and lasting effect. Generally speaking, when worries and anxieties start to become a mental illness, the impact is visible. It will cause them to suffer frequent and intense bouts of stress and can quickly make it harder for them to function.

As a result, people can become very unhappy, and this has a knock-on effect in other areas of their life, be it at work, at school, or in a close relationship. Social workers can refer their clients to talking therapy treatments, sometimes referred to as psychotherapy, or refer them to a physician. To help a person manage their symptoms, a doctor could prescribe medications to be taken at the same time as the talking therapy is happening. It can be a long and difficult road for the client and their social worker. However, the aim is always to turn things around and ensure the client can eventually enjoy a better quality of life.

How do social workers try to alleviate the effects of these?

Working as part of a team or alone, there are many techniques a social worker can use to get someone on the road to recovery.

Establishing and nurturing a bond with their clients

Social workers arrange to visit their clients regularly. They might meet up in the person’s home hospital, or care facility where they are staying. As part of each meeting, it is important to form a good relationship with the client, to listen fully, and understand what they need. This will often lead to a higher level of trust between the professional and the client. Moreover, a social worker will also strive to meet the family, their caregivers, and friends. This can give them a deeper understanding of their background and, therefore, could provide better insight into their current condition.

Ensuring the client’s rights are respected

Most of the clients a social worker engages with are vulnerable in one way or another, and that is also true of people who need support with their mental health problems. To uphold the rights of these individuals, social workers need to understand the current legislation around mental health so that they can act as effective advocates. This is especially vital when a social worker feels a person’s rights are being ignored or they are not getting all the help they are entitled to. Social workers are capable of being assertive with other professionals because they are aware of their client’s rights, which the client themselves may not be.

Arranging interventions and offering assistance

Once they have spoken with their clients and have a greater understanding of the situation, practitioners will be in a better position to start resolving the issues involved. Support might take the form of working alongside a client to set goals for the future that will make their life more stable. An example of this could be passing an exam, remaining in the same job, or keeping their home tidy. Secondly, they might focus on establishing and maintaining good relationships with friends or family. To help them get these things done, a social worker will be on hand to provide detailed guidance, but they might also arrange a few therapy sessions to get a person started on achieving their aims.

Create and manage a care plan

Each client has a plan of care that is targeted at their individual needs. This is a unique strategy that will involve the other professionals who care for a client and ensures their plan stays consistent and on track. They might consult with health professionals such as nurses or physicians to ensure the appropriate support is offered, then explain the agreed process to their client to ensure they understand and are comfortable. Furthermore, they can offer the practical support a care plan includes. This could be in terms of finding funding for a client’s expenses, such as traveling to work or college. It can also involve seeking resources, such as clothing, food, or homewares, from a local non-profit or community group to meet a client’s immediate needs.

Assess the safety needs of a client and those around them

Social workers have a duty to keep their clients as safe as possible and to ensure those around them are not at risk. They will spend a significant amount of time assessing each individual client and deciding whether additional resources are required. This might be aimed at managing the danger a client poses to themselves or the risk they face of being neglected by their caregivers at home. Social workers will take action to safeguard the person if necessary. That could involve bringing in care from an organization or reporting neglect to the police and moving the client to a care facility.

Prompt and guide clients to take their medications properly

Even when a client has been assessed, a care plan organized, and a course of medication prescribed, social workers still have an important job to do. Research suggests that many people with health problems either do not take their medication or fail to take it correctly. Consequently, their condition can worsen, or they may develop an additional illness. Social workers encourage their clients to take their medication by talking about the importance of doing so for their recovery. They can also advocate on behalf of their client to get their medication changed if the side effects are intolerable or no benefit is being felt.

Encouraging clients to live a healthier lifestyle

When a person’s health and fitness levels improve, their mental well-being can also get better. Social workers can point their clients towards local clubs where they could take up an activity they enjoy, learn to cook, or be outdoors more. It could start with simple things such as walking instead of catching the bus or carrying shopping home from the store if a person is unable to or is not keen on joining a gym.

In which settings do mental health social workers operate?

Social workers in the field of mental health are employed in a wide range of settings, both clinical and non-clinical. They help children still in school, outpatients, and people living in medical facilities. The type of work they do is heavily influenced by their job and the setting. Clinical social workers can focus on a range of mental health issues and specialize depending on their education and area of interest. For school social workers, the scope of practice is much wider. They focus on behavioral problems and general mental health concerns. Here’s a closer look at what social workers do in three of the main environments they work in.

Mental health facilities

Social workers in a mental health setting might be involved with inpatients or outpatients. Either way, their role is to deliver both direct services and manage individual cases. They might arrange for a person to attend crisis intervention meetings or initiate a course of group therapy sessions. This could be aimed at treating people with various types of severe mental illness, eating disorders or high stress levels. Social workers also educate their clients about self-care and nurture their life skills, so they are more able to cope independently in the future.

Local hospitals

In hospitals, social workers are asked to provide a frontline service after a mental health problem has occurred or a person has been involved in a traumatic incident. They might conduct a psychological assessment or seek out services for the patient, depending on their qualifications. Other tasks, such as counseling, building a treatment plan and organizing therapy, also fall to a hospital social worker.

Private practice

With the correct licensing, social workers can establish a private practice. In this way, they can choose which type of clients they see, whether they offer group sessions, and which issues they will specialize in. They can work with local businesses that wish to provide mental health services to their employees. In this role, social workers can assist individual employees in overcoming any mental health problems they are experiencing or run group sessions that deal with general issues related to stress at work. When necessary, social workers with a private practice will collaborate with other professionals to ensure they provide a comprehensive service.

Social workers are at the heart of better mental health for the nation

Social workers focus on the rights of their clients and the community when delivering mental health care. Using their professional contacts, along with communication skills and knowledge of the law, they support self-directed recovery and change. As such, they play a crucial part in improving adult and child mental health, as well as the services that are already in place. They strive to achieve the best possible outcomes for their client, the family around them, and the wider community.


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