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Mon, 19 October 2020

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We must act now to avert the mental health crisis looming in the wake of Covid

We must act now to avert the mental health crisis looming in the wake of Covid

Credit: PA Images

Ella Joseph, Chief Executive | Think Ahead

4 min read Partner content

Putting social workers at the heart of our response is a vital part of strengthening the mental health workforce.

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, evidence of the effect it is having on the nation’s mental health has been mounting.

It is clear that we need more mental health professionals to help people cope with the loss, isolation, and financial insecurity they are experiencing as a result of the pandemic.

With their focus on improving people’s social circumstances – such as their relationships, living arrangements, and employment – social workers are ideally placed to do so.

Today’s announcement of £27m of Government investment in recruiting and training mental health social workers through the Think Ahead graduate programme is an important move in the right direction.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to disrupt our lives, improving the nation’s mental health now has to be a top political priority.

Recent data from the Office for National Statistics showed that around one in five adults were likely to be experiencing some form of depression, almost double the level recorded before the pandemic.

Meanwhile research from the Centre for Mental Health suggests that those who were already experiencing structural inequalities before the pandemic hit are at greater risk of significant, long-term, negative effects on their mental health.

A big reason people are becoming unwell is that the pandemic has in many cases severely affected their livelihoods, housing and relationships. Issues such as loneliness, grief, and financial problems are difficult to deal with on their own – but for many people, they have become compounded. 

More than any other profession, mental health social workers support people who experience severe mental health problems with just these kinds of social factors– and this is why government investment in our programme to train graduates as mental health social workers is so vital.

The funding will allow us to recruit and train up to 480 new mental health social workers to enter services and help tackle the increase in demand.

At Think Ahead, we work hard to highlight the rewarding nature of mental health roles and address the misconceptions that are putting people off careers in mental health.

What’s especially crucial is that they will be trained to use social approaches to help at least 10,000 people by 2025 with the most severe and enduring mental health conditions, including schizophrenia, personality disorders and eating disorders.

This is not to say that there is less value in other approaches to mental health – incorporating aspects of medical, therapeutic, and social approaches is often key to achieving the right treatment mix. More than ever, we need well-trained staff, across all mental health professions.

Yet we know that recruiting people into mental health roles can be difficult and beset by challenges.

Our recent research showed the vast majority of people believe that mental health professionals get to make a real difference to the lives of the people they work with.

But we also found that many people may be put off by misconceptions they have about working in the field, including the need for prior experience and qualifications and the risk of attack in the workplace.

At Think Ahead, we work hard to highlight the rewarding nature of mental health roles and address the misconceptions that are putting people off careers in mental health.

Getting people the mental health support they need is important for our recovery from the pandemic in many areas of public life.

We can’t lose sight of the toll Covid-19 has taken on the mental wellbeing of the health workforce itself – the people at the heart of our recovery effort.  

A survey of the broader health workforce by the Institute for Public Policy Research this year found that half of respondents felt their mental health had declined over eight weeks and over a fifth were more likely to leave the sector as a result of Covid-19.

Mental health is also closely intertwined with the economy.

As we see the fear of unemployment rising, it is no surprise that the mental health impacts are widespread. In 2017, the Farmer-Stevenson review estimated the cost of poor mental health to the economy to be between £74 billion and £99 billion per year in lost output.

Workplaces that promote mental health and support people with mental illness are more likely to reduce absenteeism, increase productivity and benefit from associated economic gains.

As the coronavirus pandemic turns people’s lives upside down with knock-on effects for the NHS and the wider economy, mental health is no longer a niche interest and looks set to continue to be a growing political issue across all parties.

Today’s new investment in a training programme for frontline mental health staff, and strengthening the mental health workforce, is an important step in the journey towards tackling the escalating mental health crisis.

Putting social workers at the heart of our response is a vital part of strengthening the mental health workforce.

 

 

 

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