How do social workers promote and improve mental health awareness?

Social workers bridge the gap between people and the environment they live in. Daily they see how mental health issues can impact individuals, families, and the wider community. Social workers engage with clients to help them manage the symptoms of their mental distress and find ways of improving any underlying conditions. They try to encourage people to live a more satisfying life, to become active participants in society, and to reach their full potential. However, social workers can also promote mental health awareness and nurture a more understanding attitude toward people living with these conditions. This can take place in one-to-one sessions or through working with groups, wider communities, and organizations.

Why is mental health such a pressing issue in the United States?

A study released by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) showed that in 2021 there were “an estimated 57.8 million adults aged 18 or older in the United States with AMI” (any mental illness). That means around 22.8%, or nearly a quarter, of all American adults are living with some form of mental health issue. These conditions vary in severity, but almost all will have a significant effect on the lives of sufferers and the people around them. Aside from the personal impact, large-scale mental health issues are affecting workplace productivity and compelling hospitals to change the way they provide emergency care.

Therefore it is increasingly important for current nurses and people considering a second degree in nursing to gain a deep understanding of the mental health issues their patients must face. Remote learning has opened up many opportunities for people with an interest in this field who are willing to commit to a course of learning.

Academic institutions such as Holy Family University are leading the way in providing flexible, affordable, high-quality online education, which is helpful to all those seeking professional development while balancing other work or life responsibilities. To find out more, graduates in any field can check the eligible states to apply for Holy Family’s online ABSN program and then pursue their career in nursing through online study. Along with coursework delivered by lecturers, students hone their skills in clinical placements and will be ready to graduate in just 14 months.

What kind of mental health problems do social workers raise awareness of?  

All mental health illnesses are described by the American Psychiatric Association in their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). This constantly-updated guide is used by mental health professionals – including social workers – across the US. Some of the main categories it covers are those that practitioners will most frequently encounter. They include anxiety disorders, substance misuse disorders, mood disorders, and personality disorders. Social workers are trained to help people who are experiencing one or more of these conditions by offering practical support, advocacy, and counseling to address mental health problems in the appropriate way for each situation.

Why is mental health awareness important?

We are frequently reminded about the benefits of good physical health, and most people understand how to access healthcare. However, the information and resources needed to maintain excellent mental health have not always been understood or made available. Moreover, for many, asking for help with stress or depression is seen as a weakness rather than something positive. Although seeing a physician to cure a physical problem is acceptable, for some people, going to see a therapist or social worker somehow feels less acceptable.

Social workers raise mental health awareness at micro, mezzo, and macro levels by trying to remove this stigma. This could be through helping people to understand mental health disorders, explaining the techniques that can make the issue more manageable, or offering treatments. Part of their practice involves engaging with people from different age groups, cultures, and backgrounds to prevent health inequity from becoming a barrier to good mental health.

By establishing a greater awareness of the issues surrounding mental health, the conditions people live with, and how these can affect their daily lives, social workers improve how these disorders are perceived within society. This creates a more compassionate and understanding response toward those affected by mental health problems and encourages people to seek help when they need it.

Advocating for a better understanding of mental health at the micro level

At a micro level, social workers meet with smaller groups of people, families, and individuals to help them manage their mental health challenges. This one-to-one guidance is designed to provide support but also to help people work through their challenges and enjoy a better quality of life. Through therapy and counseling, social workers can promote techniques like cognitive-behavioral therapy and mindfulness techniques to help people better understand their condition and address their symptoms. Part of this will involve connecting people with community resources, such as support groups, that will provide further assistance with anxiety management. Additionally, practitioners will advocate for their clients when it comes to accessing training or education and financial assistance.

Maintaining the ethical standards of social work

In general, social workers at a micro level will work through several stages when it comes to advocating for their clients. Usually, they will begin by assessing the individual in terms of their needs, the risks they face, and which interventions might help, including referrals, coordinating medical services, and more. Taking a person-centered approach to each client, they consider how the individual’s environment, culture, and background are impacting their condition. Social workers celebrate diversity, which means they will respect a person’s views and beliefs, even when these values differ from their own. To foster inclusion and trust, practitioners respond to the cultural preferences of each client while also tackling the related barriers which may be affecting their mental health.

Part of advocacy that should not be overlooked is the importance of sticking with the ethics and standards established by the National Association of Social Workers. These set out the values and principles that must be adhered to when working with clients in any capacity. Therefore, a key aspect of mental health advocacy involves respecting the autonomy of each client, gaining their consent for any planned intervention, and respecting their right to privacy. Although they seek to help people work their way out of a mental health issue, social workers will prioritize self-determination, striving to empower others rather than dictate what should be done. This can give clients the skills they need to act more independently in the future, find help as they need it, and educate those around them about mental health issues.

Mezzo level social work and mental health awareness

Practitioners working at a mezzo level will support awareness through direct interaction with people. They operate within neighborhoods, small communities, and schools, assisting groups of people rather than individuals. After researching what is needed and listening to local people, they might launch initiatives that support better mental well-being, such as a free clinic that provides a range of services to vulnerable people. Here residents might obtain information on nutrition, health, employment, and mental health counseling.

Social workers may also provide education to the community about the issues surrounding mental health. They could achieve this through a series of workshops, presentations at a community center, or other outreach practices that engage large numbers of people. This could involve visiting local non-profits, schools, and clubs to offer education on mental health and explain why seeking help is crucial if it is required.

Promoting a healthy attitude toward mental health conditions

At a mezzo level, advocacy will also involve promoting the available mental health services to community organizations that specialize in mental health care. These collaborations can help smaller advocacy groups to communicate their message more clearly and reach a wider section of the population. Social workers can raise awareness of the services being offered and explain how these can be accessed in various ways. Their activities could involve promoting events such as charity runs and health fairs, which give local people a chance to ask questions, openly discuss their concerns, and find out where to seek help.

Increasingly, social media is being seen as a significant tool for practitioners who want to build awareness of mental health conditions. On Facebook, Instagram, and more, there are vast, ready-made communities of people who can be contacted simultaneously through a single post. Practitioners can use these channels to provide information, direct people toward useful resources, and encourage a positive conversation around mental health. Their work in this field can be informed by the success of other industries on social media, such as education and healthcare.

How can macro social work encourage compassion for mental health issues?

Operating on a much larger scale than micro and mezzo social work, macro practices engage with state and federal government as well as research projects and the creation of social programs. To inform their practice, social workers will investigate a citywide or national social problem either independently or with the assistance of an academic department or a research company. Once a problem is identified, practitioners can begin to design programs to raise awareness of and provide education on a range of issues around mental wellness. In collaboration with non-profits, national organizations, and government departments, they will help to deliver a program and then work to evaluate its progress.

Advocating for political change

As most social workers gain experience of grassroots activism, they are very well-suited to advocating for changes to policies at state and federal levels. They will campaign for more programs to address social inequality, improved funding for mental health care, and even reforms that could have benefits on a national scale. They could support this work by contacting locally-elected representatives and promoting the mental health policies they believe could be of most use to the community.

The excellent communication skills that social workers gain during education and practice can equip them for providing testimony to legislative committees. Social workers who are involved with spreading awareness about mental health issues in this way tend to specialize in policy practice. They are often called upon to advocate for policies that support better provision for people with mental health conditions or funding for organizations that offer mental health assistance in local communities. They may stand before committees at either a state or federal level as a way of drawing attention to the issues surrounding mental health and trying to destigmatize these conditions. As respected professionals, their words can be highly influential when it comes to gaining support for a particular bill and, as a result, bringing about change that benefits their clients.

Self-care, peer care, and continued professional development

Finally, an important aspect of advocating for others is self-care and continued professional development. These two key aspects of social work allow practitioners to improve and sustain their competency while caring for themselves adequately. There are high expectations of professional people in every field, and although it is a highly-rewarding role, social work is also demanding. To offer the best possible service to their clients and the communities they serve, practitioners engage in self-care, peer care, and reflective practices. They recognize stressors and use a range of coping strategies to deal with them effectively. Furthermore, at every opportunity they engage in additional learning. This could be through further certifications, feedback from colleagues, or simply brushing up on the codes of conduct which are most relevant in their role.

Building resilience into communities

Promoting a better understanding of mental health conditions and how they can affect people’s lives is a multifaceted task. Social workers need to have all the relevant information and resources at hand to support a client or testify to a committee, but their role is also about core skills like counseling and building trust. They work to help people get well, remain on track with their recovery, and become self-sufficient. By encouraging resilience and simultaneously advocating for more robust policies around mental health, social workers help to improve the lives of clients and draw attention to the issues they are facing.

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