SCIE Research briefing 26: Mental health and social work

By Mo Ray, Richard Pugh, with Diane Roberts and Bernard Beech

Published July 2008


Providing effective social support for people with mental health problems is a key challenge in an environment where the views of people who use services are seen as increasingly significant, where some social groups do not receive services fairly and equably, and where organisational structures are changing.

At a time of considerable change to professional roles and organisational structures, where concerns have been expressed about the diminution of the distinctive part that social workers have played in the broader provision of health and social services for people with mental health problems, this briefing focuses on the role and contribution of social work in community mental health provision in statutory community mental health teams, integrated or multidisciplinary teams, assertive outreach and crisis intervention teams within the UK. It acknowledges the diversity of people who use services throughout their lives, but does not review research relating to acute in-patient care, residential or domiciliary care, or dementia in older people. The issue of dual diagnosis is not included as this will be covered in a separate SCIE research briefing. The information contained in this summary of recent research is drawn from relevant electronic databases, journals and texts.

Key messages

  • Approximately one in six people in England experiences some form of mental health problem at any given time, with some groups more vulnerable than others.
  • The traditional skills of social work remain important and social workers have a distinctive role in multi-agency settings.
  • Social work needs to develop practices which help people with mental health problems identify and realise their own needs.
  • Social work has a significant role to play in coordinating efforts to support individuals and groups who may often have negative experiences and perceptions of mental health services.
  • Social workers need to maintain a broad social view of mental health problems especially in regard to concerns about discriminatory
  • Policy makers need to focus on the role that social work plays in integrated mental health services and support further professional development.


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