think ahead, think ahead programme, mental health social worker, mental health social work

Think Ahead and become a mental health social worker

By Luke Aldred

Are you ready for a job in mental health social work? The Think Ahead programme is a new fast-track career pathway for graduates and career-changers.

The NHS says that one in four adults experience mental health issues. Mental illness can not only affect the lives of individual people but can also have a major impact on society and the nation's economy. According to the government's Home Affairs Committee, at least one fifth of police time is spent on supporting people with mental illness, while the Mental Health Task Force has estimated that mental illness costs the country as much as £1 billion each year through lost working days, benefits and treatable illness.

Early and effective intervention is vital, so mental health social work jobs have never been more important. That's why the Think Ahead programme has been created, giving recent graduates and career-changers a reliable route to becoming an adult mental health social worker. Combining training, mentoring and on-the-job learning, the two-year paid programme leads to a postgraduate diploma in social work.

Why become a mental health social worker?

In a mental health social work role, you can make a real impact on the lives of people living with a wide variety of conditions, such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or personality disorders. You'll support them through care, talking therapies and community action, as well ensuring their legal rights are observed and protected.

What does it take to be a mental health social worker?

Over 400 graduates and career-changers have already joined the Think Ahead programme since it was launched in 2015. They've come from a wide variety of backgrounds and have studied a range of subjects at first degree level, from psychology to politics and sports science. But they all have one thing in common – a dedication to making a real difference to the lives of people with mental health problems.

You don't need any previous experience of social work to apply for the programme. What you will need are some key attributes:

  • Leadership skills. As a mental health social worker, you'll be leading the coordination of an individual's care, engaging with a variety of social work colleagues and other professionals

  • Motivation. You'll need to show you're totally committed to your job as a mental health social worker and to the aims of the programme.

  • Adaptability. You must be able to deal with pressure and be flexible enough to respond effectively to quickly changing circumstances.

  • Interpersonal skills. You need to be able to build strong relationships and communicate well with service users, carers and colleagues.

  • Problem-solving ability. You'll need to analyse data, interpret evidence and make clear, decisive judgements to deliver effective solutions.

  • Self-awareness. You must be able to reflect critically on your own thoughts and actions to drive personal development.

What's the next step?

Visit the Think Ahead website to check your eligibility for the programme and register your details. On successful completion of an online situational judgement test, you can then complete an application form. Selected applicants will be invited for an assessment, which will include interviews, group exercises and role play.

We have written a selection of pieces around starting and navigating your social work career.