6 Facts You Should Know about Mental Illness and Social Work Practice

Social workers provide 60% of the nation’s mental health services. This number is extremely important because of the amount of Americans that experience some form of mental illness in their lifetime, an astonishing 46% (Issues). This mental health field includes anything from forming programs for prevention to family counseling and treatment of depression or even alcohol/drug problems. Here are 7 facts you should know about mental illness in social work:

  1. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or commonly referred to as DSM, defines diagnoses of mental illnesses and can be used as a guide. It is the most widely used diagnostic tool in the United States and all mental health practitioners must be familiar with it.
  2. Social workers who practice in the mental health field can work in emergency room psychiatric services, hospitals, residential programs and outpatient services.
  3. 50% of mental disorders manifest by the age of 14, and three-quarters by the age of 24. This makes children/young adults a primary concern of mental health practitioners. However, these services are not provided in the same quantity as they are for adults.
  4. Case management, evidence-based treatment, strengths-based services, motivational interviewing and family psychoeducation are among the most common direct services that social workers in the mental health field provide. These services can be applied to almost any mental health disorder.
  5. Social workers, psychiatrists, psychologists, and psychiatric nurses are some occupations with the longest traditions as mental health service providers.
  6. Funding agencies like SAMHSA and NIMH generally require evaluation of program processes and outcomes. This helps to ensure social worker’s responsibility that services are accessible, available, and appropriate.


All information comes from Social Work Issues and Opportunities in a Challenging Profession, Third Edition.

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