Working with individuals with Mental Health Issues

Freelance - Mental Health (June 2016)

Encouraging and supporting good mental health and well-being represents a hugely important section of working in the Social Care sector. It is crucial to be able to recognise when there are signs of deteriorating mental health in a client and a great deal of understanding and compassion is necessary if you are considering a role within this sector.

You will need to learn the key signs of when mental health may be deteriorating or there are signs of distress and how to appropriately support and help those suffering. You will also be responsible for promoting dignity and respect, maintain confidentiality and integrity at all times and value the individual’s own knowledge and experience of their issues.

Are there important skills I need?

There are many key personal values which are relevant to working in social care. Those needing your care and support have reported that personal values held by social care workers are extremely important factors in how their experiences can differ. It’s important to be aware that personal values are not the same as your principles. It is therefore very important that you can demonstrate a level of personal values which would be rated highly by those needing your care and support and also to understand their role in the way in which you deliver a service. Your personal development would include good training, practice development and peer support. Essential qualities include:

  • Showing empathy
  • Having compassion
  • Display a caring nature
  • Be honest at all times, even if the client doesn’t particularly want to hear it
  • Be consistent
  • Have integrity
  • Be friendly and approachable
  • Be optimistic
  • Ability to motivate others
  • Be non-judgemental
  • Be willing to collaborate with others.

Those with longstanding mental illness or mental health problems needing care and support may experience periods of crisis or distress. Mental illness or mental health problems may develop when clients are receiving social care for other reasons such as other disabilities, conditions or problems they are experiencing in other areas of their lives. Signs of deterioration in mental health to look out for include significant changes in their thoughts, feelings, mood, and behaviour.

It’s important for you to have understanding of these signs so that you could identify when those you’re caring for develop a mental illness or mental health problem and therefore would need adjustments to their ongoing care and support.

You would need an understanding that when people with mental illnesses are in crisis or distress, and behaving in unusual ways this is a result of their illness and not down to something you have said or done. You need to address your own concerns, as well as the person’s and their family and carers concerns and provide timely, appropriate and sensitive responses about the mental health support options available in order to care and support them.

You also need to be sensitive to the idea that those needing care and support may not be able to describe their distress or difficulties and the fact that they may have previously experienced stigma and discrimination in the past and therefore may be reluctant to talk about aspects of their mental health or what has caused their deterioration. You have to be careful not to make assumptions, just respond appropriately, raising concerns if necessary. Be aware that different lifestyles, values and behaviours may be the reasons for these signs, rather than a mental illness or mental health problems. The ability to communicate clearly is important in helping understand their feelings and avoiding any misunderstandings.

You would also be responsible for promoting social inclusion by helping them to maintain positive family and friends relationships, ascertaining if they have peer support and enabling carers to become involved in ongoing support.

Necessary Qualifications

Undergraduates will need a three-year BA course in social work. Graduates from other disciplines can undertake a two-year MA course. Competition for places is tough, and universities look for candidates with concrete evidence, showing empathy and communication skills, resilience to cope under pressure, and the ability to analyse data.

It is possible to apply for one of the fast-track schemes, which combine a Master's degree with intensive on-the-job experience.

The degrees provide a good grounding in all aspects of social work, including academic learning and work placements - this is essential in developing ongoing skills and knowledge. Obtaining a qualification approved by the Health and Care Professions Council is also a requirement before you can register with them or practice social work.

If you are interested in working within the Mental Health sector within HR - check out the current opportunities that are on our site.

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