What Should Social Workers Know About Mental Health?

Social Workers and Mental Health

Mental health is an incredibly broad and complex subject, but there are at least a few things that every social worker should know about. The contributing factors and consequences of various emotional, behavioral and developmental disorders are relevant to many individual cases. There are also many specialized roles for social workers centered around mental health issues, so these positions require an even greater understanding of these conditions and the practical solutions available.

Identifying and Managing Risky Behavior

Perhaps the single most important piece of mental health training for any social worker to have is the ability to identify potentially life-threatening behaviors. Many known mental health disorders, including chronic and temporary ones, can place the victim at much higher risk of suicide or accidental death. Social workers also need to be able to identify behaviors, thoughts or actions that could indicate a person poses a significant danger to their family or other members of their community. Spotting warning signs of potentially dangerous behavior can require multiple sessions over the course of weeks, so workers have to stay vigilant while developing each new case.

Recognizing the Signs of Abuse

Many social workers are eventually confronted with a situation that involves emotional or physical abuse, typically between domestic partners or their families. Recognizing physical injury only requires an observant attitude and the ability to discuss issues openly with the victim. Unfortunately, emotional and psychological abuse can just do as much harm without producing an obvious or immediate impact. Social workers need to be able to recognize the signs of abuse, since intimate partner violence (IPV) impacts millions of people in the United States every year, according to the National Association of Social Workers.

Applications for Aging Individuals

Even social workers who don’t specialize in geriatric or senior care are likely to work with plenty of aging individuals throughout their career. Since the average lifespan has consistently risen over the last few centuries, all types of care providers are still adjusting to the demands of an older population. There are many aspects of mental health care that apply to aging individuals, particularly those pertaining to age-related degenerative diseases. Applied behavior analysis (ABA) has also become a popular and effective tool to help therapy providers address behavioral and other quality-of-life issues in senior patients.

Mental Health Specializations in Social Work

The field of social work has a broad scope in the United States, so there are many opportunities for professionals to guide their career through specialization. Mental health social workers focus specifically on the issues and applications of the field on their work. Others who focus on issues like addiction or domestic violence also need to have a firm understanding of basic mental health practices as they apply to their specialization.

Related Resource: Top 10 Affordable Master of Social Work Online (MSW) Degrees

Social workers fill an undeniably crucial role in serving public health needs throughout the country. They are often the first or primary point of contact for people impacted by mental health issues, so they at least need to know enough to identify risky situations and guide individuals towards appropriate professional care.