Mental health is critical for leading a happy life. When people focus on their mental health, they can become more efficient, improve their connections, and reduce the risks of cognitive illnesses. Unfortunately, millions of Americans struggle with anxiety, fear, isolation, and depression. If that is not bad enough, they also lack access to the quality care and support they need to combat it.
A CNN report reveals mental health has become a significant problem in the nation, with roughly 90% saying it is now a full-blown crisis. The report added that Americans do not believe mental healthcare services are available for everyone regardless of the increasing community awareness of the importance of cognitive health. Although several reasons prevent Americans from accessing quality mental healthcare services, everything points to a strained and overtaxed healthcare system that cannot deal with the increase in mental health issues.
Separate research reveals nearly half of American adults and children living with mental health conditions go without any treatment. As the severe shortage of healthcare professionals continues to haunt America’s mental healthcare system, the need for social workers to collaborate and develop care plans for those struggling with cognitive issues becomes more critical in dealing with the crisis in mental healthcare. Through effective collaboration, social workers can encourage conversations, provide support, and suggest initiatives to address various aspects of a client’s life.
Since social workers bring unique skills in social support, community resources, and advocacy, they can complement their expertise with other professionals to develop a more well-rounded approach to mental healthcare. This is especially important in understanding and addressing the unique social, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds of individuals seeking mental health support, ensuring more culturally sensitive and appropriate care. Here are several ways social workers facilitate collaboration in mental health settings.
Social workers work with multidisciplinary teams
As mental health issues are viewed more holistically, interventions must be provided by various professionals working closer together. In today’s evolving mental healthcare environment, many professionals who work in an agency, including social workers, do their jobs in a multidisciplinary manner, or at least there is an expectation to do so. By working with multidisciplinary teams, social workers can deliver integrated mental healthcare to individuals with cognitive health issues and ensure they receive comprehensive support that addresses the various aspects of their well-being.
Unbeknownst to most, the importance of integrated mental healthcare in addressing physical and mental health needs, enhancing care coordination, and reducing stigma is too hard to ignore. Thanks to integrated mental healthcare, social workers can combine social, psychological, and medical support to combat cognitive health symptoms and the social, economic, and environmental factors affecting mental health. Besides integrated care planning, social workers within multidisciplinary mental healthcare teams collaborate in several ways.
Advocate for underserved individuals and communities
Advocacy is the pillar of social work. So, it is no wonder why social workers within multidisciplinary teams advocate for the client’s social and emotional well-being to address their unique mental healthcare needs. Although approaches vary, social workers often work with government officials and policymakers to find ways to support individuals living with cognitive health issues.
Since social workers work directly with these individuals, they can relate experiences of how existing policies are affecting those with mental health issues. Furthermore, they can raise mental health awareness through community education and provide information and resources about mental health to help everyone understand the importance of seeking assistance. Through these open and straightforward discussions, social workers can make mental health less intimidating to everyone while encouraging those who need assistance to seek one.
Ensure care continuity
Care continuity is crucial in treating mental health conditions because it ensures a consistent treatment approach and prevents relapses or worsening of cognitive health symptoms. A recent study reveals care continuity can reduce unplanned hospital readmission for patients with severe mental illness by nearly 25%. Social workers in multidisciplinary teams contribute to maintaining care continuity by liaising with various agencies and professionals to ensure a seamless transition for the client among different care services and settings.
Moreover, they can help clients access various community resources and support systems that complement and sustain their mental health treatment beyond clinical settings. Doing so ensures the clients’ mental healthcare needs are met consistently across various settings and transitions. This is especially important considering clients have unique social and emotional concerns that social workers must address to ensure successful care.
Contribute to research and evaluation
As mentioned, social workers work directly with individuals. This means they are more in touch than other professionals on the interventions and the best practices for effective mental healthcare. So, it is no wonder social workers within multidisciplinary teams contribute to research initiatives for evaluating interventions and identifying the standards for potent mental healthcare.
While their strategies vary, social workers contribute to research initiatives by gathering qualitative and quantitative information through client interaction, designing research methodologies and frameworks, and understanding the social determinants of health and human behavior. Providing valuable insights into client experiences empowers social workers to uncover trends, needs, and patterns that might not be immediately evident and advocate for policy changes that improve mental health services and client care.
By working with multidisciplinary teams, social workers can connect clients with community resources, support networks, and services beyond the healthcare setting. This ensures individuals with mental health issues, especially those from underserved communities, are not forgotten. As a result, social workers can empower them to confront challenges they may struggle to overcome alone.
Assisting mental healthcare providers in support and counselling
With a solid understanding of the social health determinants, social workers can provide support and counselling to provide coping strategies, encourage self-understanding, and improve the person’s physical and mental well-being. Counselling and support also eliminate stigma and promote understanding and acceptance of mental health conditions by creating a more supportive environment. Regardless of the environment, social workers collaborate to provide support and counselling through the following:
- Team consultation. Social workers consult with colleagues, psychologists, and other mental health professionals to unlock insights and perspectives on cases. Social workers can develop more innovative and effective solutions for challenging cases through collaborative brainstorming.
- Interdisciplinary meetings. Social workers participate in meetings with various professionals to discuss client needs and coordinate care initiatives to ensure holistic treatment.
- Peer counselling programmes. Social workers develop and participate in peer counselling programmes where individuals with shared experiences offer guidance and support to each other to create deeper understanding and empathy. By engaging with peers who have overcome similar challenges, social workers can make individuals feel empowered and more confident in their ability to deal with issues.
- Group therapy. Social workers lead and participate in group therapy sessions to support and guide individuals dealing with similar challenges. With group therapy, social workers can gain different viewpoints and help individuals learn coping strategies from others in the group.
- Case conferences. Social workers participate in case conferences and multidisciplinary meetings to discuss individual cases and plan comprehensive care with insights from various professionals.
- Technology integration. Social workers collaborate on integrating powerful technological tools and platforms into counselling and support services to enable remote counselling, access to resources, and innovative assistance.
By collaborating in providing counselling and support, social workers can combine various perspectives and professional expertise to develop more comprehensive and well-rounded client care. After all, mental health is not solely confined to the mind but is also influenced by various factors, including occupation, finances, self-care practices, family, exercise, relationships, and nutrition. Recognising the interconnectedness of these factors increases the likelihood of social workers addressing mental health issues comprehensively and ensuring clients achieve overall well-being.
Through holistic mental health counselling, social workers can heal the underlying causes and focus on the person rather than isolated issues. This provides more sustainable and long-term relief and reduces the likelihood of issues reoccurring or developing into more complex conditions. Moreover, it also contributes to reducing the stigma around mental health and promoting open and more supportive conversations.
Social workers collaborate with various professionals to plan treatment
Social workers collaborate with professionals such as physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, and educators to plan comprehensive treatment. Depending on the circumstances, social workers help these professionals understand social dynamics, advocate for clients, and coordinate services to ensure a holistic approach to addressing client needs. This collaboration often involves sharing information, aligning objectives, and working together to provide the best support available for individuals and communities.
By attaining an Online Master’s in social work degree in Michigan from a leading academic institution such as Florida State University, social workers will gain the skills to use evidence-based techniques that empower clients towards their goals and enhance their overall quality of life. By collaborating with different professionals, social workers can develop comprehensive treatment programmes such as task-centered practise, family therapy, and cognitive behaviour therapy to help clients work on permanently changing or eliminating self-destructive habits. Throughout their collaboration with other professionals and agencies, social workers participate in treatment planning through several vital steps.
- Client assessment. Social workers perform in-depth assessments to identify the social, emotional, and environmental factors affecting the client’s mental health. They also give mental healthcare professionals valuable insights into patient strengths and needs.
- Determine social components. Social workers emphasise social determinants affecting the client’s well-being, such as cultural considerations, access to resources, family dynamics, and socioeconomic status. Identifying social determinants helps social workers plan treatment by tailoring interventions and tackling root causes to prevent future issues.
- Set treatment goals. Social workers work with clients and interdisciplinary teams to establish realistic and achievable goals considering the social context and clients’ capabilities. By establishing treatment goals, social workers can provide clients with a clear direction, measure progress, and structure the therapeutic process to contribute to their well-being.
- Mental health intervention selection. Social workers suggest and implement mental health interventions that address broader societal and community contexts. This ensures the chosen interventions are culturally sensitive and align with clients’ environments. Doing so fosters trust and rapport between a client and their mental healthcare professional, increasing the former’s engagement in the treatment process and making the intervention more practical and applicable to their circumstances.
- Monitoring and evaluation. Social workers perform regular assessments to determine clients’ progress and the effectiveness of treatment. If changes are necessary, social workers will discuss with mental healthcare professionals the required modifications to tailor treatment to client requirements and maximise its benefits.
Collaborating with other professionals in treatment planning empowers social workers to reduce oversight, allowing for a more tailored and multidimensional mental healthcare approach. Doing so fosters a more cohesive and coordinated treatment plan and streamlines care by avoiding conflicting and duplicate interventions. Furthermore, interprofessional collaboration can lead to better-informed diagnoses, ultimately enhancing treatment effectiveness and improving outcomes for individuals seeking support.
Social workers collaborate with medical professionals
Medication errors in mental healthcare are more common than you think. A recent study indicates medication administration and prescribing are the most common stages of medication error in mental healthcare circles. Although medication errors in mental health treatment occur for various reasons, several underlying factors can be attributed to potential side effects, multiple medications, and variations in individual responses.
Moreover, system-related mental healthcare issues, such as a lack of standardized protocols and heavy workloads, can contribute to medical errors. As per recent estimates, nearly 40% of Americans are living in areas with a shortage of mental health professionals. Considering the healthcare system is overburdened and cannot deal with rising mental health issues, medication errors are becoming increasingly likely, which can create further hesitation for patients with mental health issues to seek treatment.
Social workers can offset this shortage and work with medical professionals by facilitating better communication to ensure accurate patient information exchange. With a comprehensive and accurate patient information exchange, social workers can ensure mental healthcare professionals thoroughly understand the patient’s medical history, including previous medications and existing conditions. When medical professionals have a complete view of a patient’s needs and challenges, they can select the appropriate medications and dosages to ensure effective treatment.
It is, however, worth noting that the social worker’s role in medication management extends beyond facilitating better communication between the patient and the mental healthcare professional. They also provide vital psychosocial evaluations and support, identify medication adherence barriers, and help patients navigate complex healthcare systems by addressing socioeconomic factors affecting medication access. With their combined expertise, social workers can personalise mental healthcare interventions to address unique patient needs and challenges while encouraging patients to actively participate in their treatments.
Social workers foster ongoing client communication
Continued support is needed to combat mental health issues and improve clients’ well-being. Put simply, social workers must communicate and collaborate with clients post-treatment to provide them with ongoing guidance and advice as they navigate their mental health challenges. By delivering continued support, social workers can ensure clients maintain the progress achieved through therapeutic interventions and prevent relapses.
Relapse is a common phenomenon among mental health patients. As per recent estimates, more than 50% of patients displayed clinical symptoms of anxiety and depression within a year after completing psychological treatments. Although there are several triggers to mental health relapse, it is sometimes caused by a new source of stress or an old one that has gotten worse.
Regardless, providing continued and ongoing support ensures social workers can intervene before the situation escalates and address triggers and stressors that may lead to a relapse. It also reinforces coping skills and strategies clients learned during therapy and ensures they can manage stressors that could otherwise result in them relapsing. Social workers can foster ongoing client communication and collaboration in the following ways:
Social workers can schedule regular meetings to check in, discuss progress, and adjust treatment plans as needed. During these meetings, social workers must listen attentively and encourage an open dialogue to ensure clients feel heard and understood.
Involve clients in decision-making
Social workers can collaborate with clients in the decision-making process to ensure their active participation and ownership of mental healthcare solutions. An excellent start is involving clients in documenting their progress and making plans for accountability and transparency.
Social workers can work with clients to assess progress regularly and adjust strategies and goals to ensure the treatment stays adequate and relevant to their needs.
Through ongoing communication and collaboration, social workers can improve client engagement and adherence to treatment plans, resulting in better outcomes and a more positive experience. This allows clients to gain consistent support and adapt strategies to new circumstances during life transitions and changes. On top of everything else, consistent communication and collaboration enable social workers to involve family and community members in a client’s journey to foster a supportive environment beyond individual interactions.
Effective collaboration in mental healthcare is essential for social workers to combine resources, share insights, and provide comprehensive support to individuals and communities. By accessing extensive expertise, social workers can enhance treatment interventions and ensure holistic care for those they serve while working towards fighting the ongoing mental health crisis that is currently affecting the US.
David Radar, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.