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Social work and integration in mental health

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Integration, Mental health, Viewpoint

A great deal has been happening in relation to mental health and social work over the last couple of months and I am really pleased the sector is giving this very important area the priority it deserves.

The College of Social Work recently published The Role of the Social Worker in Adult Mental Health Services. The paper was launched on 7 April at the House of Commons by Minister for Care and Support, Norman Lamb. The room was packed and those attending were very enthusiastic about the role social workers can play in supporting people to enjoy better lives. They also welcomed the clear statement the college made about the role.

Dr Ruth Allen, Chair of the Mental Health Faculty and David Smith, co-chair of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) Mental Health network, ran a session at the ADASS Spring Seminar: ‘Holding onto Social Work in Integrated Mental Health Services’. It is quite some time since there has been any real attention paid to social work and mental health services at ADASS conferences, so it was great to see it getting air time with key leaders in the sector. Social work within mental health services provides valuable learning for successfully integrated health and social care responses to people’s needs. As personalisation and integration becomes the only game in town, much can be gained from considering the impact social work has in improving outcomes for people with mental health issues.

When I am out and about visiting different organisations and meeting with social workers and people who use care services, I hear about the vital contribution social workers make to improving people’s lives. Recently, I was privileged to hear about one person for whom this was definitely the case.  He has agreed to share his story, which sums up all the things we are trying to achieve:

I have composed this letter of thanks for quite a while now in my head, but only just managed to find to whom I should address it when my social worker came round to discharge me yesterday.


I am writing to thank you for ratifying the grant* that enabled me to purchase tools for setting up a carpentry workshop in my cellar. When the idea was first mooted I felt very hesitant about the application, partly because I didn’t feel I warranted such attention and support, and partly because I wasn’t convinced of its therapeutic value.


However, after a few months now of having the workshop in situ, it has become a major part of my daily routine and occupation. I simply could not have imagined the impact this has had on my mental health. Because I am very much a beginner (though I had a little experience some decades ago), I am like a child learning new skills, and the whole enterprise has given me a sense of a new beginning, a new persona, a new context for life. This has just been, and continues to be, a great uplift in my outlook and perception of life and, week by week, through simple disuse I suppose, it seems to be eroding and setting me free from all the fragile and obsessive constructs I had put in place to cope with my mental condition.


Beside this, there have been many fringe benefits. My wife will soon have a new sewing box. Friends and contacts come round with little jobs, or just to hang out in the workshop with me, as I tinker away on some project. My teenage son, hardwired to his computer, has occasionally emerged from his room (where he will soon have a new desk) to join me in the cellar working together on some project. A friend of mine, joiner by trade, has mooted the idea that we might initiate something along the lines of a “Men in Sheds” project. Altogether, there is a whole new momentum in my family, my home and my life at large.


As I reflect on my initial misgivings, I have to say, I am quite taken aback at the imagination, lateral thinking and foresight that you guys have displayed in making all this possible for me. It is far from the image of the NHS and our welfare system that is generally portrayed and to which I had grown accustomed. And hence I offer my deepest and most sincere gratitude. Perhaps, if this “Men in Sheds” project materialises, I will be able to pass on something more of this spirit within our community!

This powerful testimony proves the value of integrating social work and mental health services into the broader care and support system. I would be interested in hearing other stories where this approach is already working or where its absence has been keenly felt. We all agree the principles of integration but how can we make it work, especially for the most vulnerable and mentally fragile?

Do get in touch using the comments box beneath this post.

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