Boston University School of Social Work

Challenges in Mental Health Social Work

According to the National Association of Social Workers 60% of mental health care professionals are clinical social workers. 

“One of the most fulfilling aspects of working in the mental health field is being able to provide support to others during the most challenging moments in their life,” says Tyler McCord, a clinical social worker with a Master of Social Work degree, in Psychology Today. “Moreover, this profession provides the privilege of offering compassion, inspiring hope, and teaching others the necessary skills required to overcome their current circumstances.”

It is estimated that one in every four American adults, and one in every five teens experience mental illness in any given year.  This includes a range of mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, substance use, and major mental illness. In most cases, social workers provide assessment and treatment to these individuals.

The Roles and Responsibilities of Social Workers

Clinical Social Workers provide assessment and treatment in a wide range of settings including hospitals, rehabilitation centers and health clinics; mental health and behavioral health centers; community and family service agencies; child welfare; schools, day treatment settings  and residential programs; hospice, nursing and services for the aging.   Social workers use a person-in-environment perspective in their work individuals, couples, families, groups, and communities. 

 “The clients represent all populations of our society—children, families, and adults—who have problems that run the gamut of the human condition from substance abuse to developmental disabilities,” says the NASW Press in Chapter One of What Social Workers Do.

Meeting the Community’s Mental Health Needs

The following are a few examples of social workers’ impact with clients and communities:

  • With students performing poorly in school: The social worker would assess and evaluate the students’ strengths and challenges within the school setting and at home, including the student’s academic performance, social interactions and environmental factors.

As a member of a multi-disciplinary team within the school setting, social workers provide the knowledge to devise and implement an academic and therapeutic educational plan.

  • With veterans suffering from PTSD: The National Center for PTSD estimates the number of veterans who returned from Afghanistan and Iraq suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to be between 11 and 20% of all those who served. Rates for PTSD in Vietnam veterans go as high as 31%. Those with the disorder constantly relive the traumatic events, which can cause stress, anxiety, depression and thoughts of suicide.  A social worker in this situation understands the unique challenges and needs of returning veterans and has the clinical skills to assess, treat, and refer to appropriate resources.
  • With those addicted to drugs or alcohol: Problematic drug or alcohol use affects the entire family unit and impacts the client’s ability to function at school and work. Social workers are trained to evaluate the symptoms of problematic substance use and can provide treatment, education and referrals to appropriate programs. In addition, social worker also provide aftercare and family counseling.

 “It is fulfilling to accompany people as they make changes in their lives to achieve improved health and well-being,” said Ned Presnall, a licensed clinical social worker with a Master of Social work degree who is executive director for addiction and mental health programs at Clayton Behavioral in St. Louis. “I feel that I have a privileged vantage point from which to witness the courage and goodness of human persons.”

 Learn more about the online master of social work program from Boston University.

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