One in four people experience a mental health problem at some point in their lives. Mental illness ranges from depression and neurosis through to psychoses, schizophrenia and personality disorders. The legislation covering the treatment of people with mental health problems is the Mental Health Act 1983 and the MHA 2007 for England and Wales, and the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003.
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Social workers and mental health
Social workers either work as part of a generic team, or they are integrated into a multi-disciplinary community mental health team alongside nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists and occupational therapists.
Tasks typically involve:
Assessing levels of risk;
Carrying out needs assessments;
Drawing up and managing a care plan in conjunction with other professionals;
Implementing individual and/or group therapy sessions;
Arranging breaks for carers, as necessary;
Offering information and counselling support to clients and their families.
After qualifying as a social worker and gaining two years' experience, social workers can opt to train as an approved mental health professional (England and Wales) or mental health officer (Scotland).
Approved mental health professionals and mental health officers are responsible for making decisions about admission to hospital for people who, in their judgement, pose a risk to themselves or others. They also help those with mental health conditions get treatment and support in the community.
Community mental health teams (CMHTs), which provide services in the community, are multi-disciplinary and have a wide array of staff attached to them.
In addition, in some areas specific teams have been set up. These include assertive outreach teams, which work with people who have a severe mental illness and who are reluctant to engage with services, and crisis resolution teams, which can be contacted at any time of day if someone needs their help.
Mental health disorders
Anxiety disorders: There are a number of different anxiety disorders, each with specific symptoms. However, it’s generally the case that an individual feels so anxious and uncomfortable that they start to avoid whatever it is that causes these feelings. Phobias fall within this category.
Depression: Symptoms include difficulties with sleeping, change in appetite, a loss of interest, feelings of guilt and thoughts of death and suicide.
Eating disorders: This category includes anorexia nervosa, where sufferers eat very little because they think that they are too fat, and bulimia nervosa, the symptoms of which include binge eating, vomiting and the taking of laxatives.
Bipolar disorder: Characterised by extreme mood changes.
Personality disorders: These relate to the way an individual acts and behaves . There are various diagnoses including paranoid personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder.
Post-traumatic stress disorder: Individuals may have flashbacks or keep thinking or dreaming about a disturbing event they have experienced such as an accident.
Schizophrenia: Individuals may lose touch with reality and see or hear things, such as voices.
Treatment for mental health disorders include:
Medication: depends on the diagnosis but examples include anti-depressants such as Prozac, tranquillisers to help reduce anxiety, or anti-psychotic medication if an individual is suffering from schizophrenia or manic depression.
Talking treatments/psychological therapy: these include psychotherapy or counselling. Generally an individual will meet with a qualified mental health professional to talk about their difficulties and come up with strategies for dealing with them.
Complementary therapies: there are many different types. Popular ones include aromatherapy, reflexology, and hypnotherapy.
Self-help: there is a wealth of self-help advice available. Numerous books have been published, support groups formed, and online links developed via the internet.
Children and adolescents tend to be assessed by child and adolescent mental health teams.
Treatment is administered in a variety of settings, such as hospitals and health centres, and by professionals who possess different qualifications. These include psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, counsellors, mental health nurses, and occupational therapists.
Detention for treatment
As of 31 March 2010, 49% of mental health inpatients in England and Wales were detained under the Mental Health Act 1983, up from 40% in 2006, according to the annual Count Me In census.
Detention under a section of the Mental Health Act 1983 is also known as “being sectioned”. In order for a person to be detained, three people must agree that this is necessary – two doctors and an approved mental health professional.
Sections two and three of the act are often used to detain people. Under section 2, a person can be detained for up to 28 days, while section 3 allows for a person to be detained for up to six months – and this can then be renewed.
Under section 117 of the act, patients who have been detained are entitled to free aftercare after they have left hospital. The 1983 act was amended through the Mental Health Act 2007, which allows for people to be compulsorily treated in the community through compulsory treatment orders.
In Scotland, the equivalent act is the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003.
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Mental Health Foundation
The Centre for Mental Health
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