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Social work for better mental health: A strategic statement

I am delighted to introduce these three new resources to launch the initiative ‘Social Work for Better Mental Health’. The three documents are The Strategic Statement which provides a narrative about the strategic place and importance of social work in mental health now; ‘How are we doing? which is an organisational and social work self-assessment and improvement tool tailored for the mental health context; and Making the Difference Together’ which provides guidance on gaining and using service user, carer and family feedback on mental health social work practice. Together, these provide improvement tools and methodologies to help develop and sustain great social work across the mental health sector and help ensure the value of social work in improving mental wellbeing in society is recognised.

These three documents build on the 2014 publication ‘The Role of the Social Worker in Adult Mental Health’ which aimed to create a sector-wide consensus about the knowledge and skills that social workers bring to the mental health sector. The three new resources provide further implementation support to organisations, social work leaders and practitioners wanting to make improvements and clarify the aims and outcomes wanted from social work. They also, crucially, promote a vision of social work that routinely draws of direct feedback from people who use services and their families to improve and develop practice.

Mental health is a key issue of our time. Reducing the stigma that can compound distress, doing more to prevent mental health problems arising in the first place and ensuring people can get help when they are in crisis are some of the key areas for national policy and funding. There have been some important recent developments, such as the success of the national Crisis Care Concordat and a new strategic focus on mental health within NHS England developed by the Mental Health Taskforce.

Social workers are the core of the Approved Mental Health Professionals (AMHP) workforce. In this role, social workers take crucial, urgent decisions about the least restrictive and most suitable context in which people should receive care and treatment, playing a vital, statutory role in protecting people’s human rights and promoting the principles of the Mental Health Act Code of Practice (2015).

However, the vital role of social work, social care and local government can still sometimes be overlooked. Every day across England, thousands of social workers use their specific skills and knowledge to support people with mental health problems. Within local government, the NHS, charities, social enterprises, not-for-profit and private care organisations, social workers provide a distinctive contribution to mental health that focuses on the social determinants and social solutions to mental health problems and distress. Working with the principles of personalisation and the opportunities of the Care Act 2014, social workers are crucial to ensuring people with mental health needs are seen first and foremost as citizens with equal rights, rather than exclusively through a diagnostic or clinical lens.