New recruitment drive to help 10,000 people with serious mental illness

£27 million has been announced for mental health charity Think Ahead to expand their mental health social work graduate programme

• Up to 480 mental health social workers will be recruited and trained – with applications open today (29 September)
• More than 10,000 people living with serious mental illness will receive support

More than 10,000 people living with serious mental illness will receive support from 480 new mental health social workers, thanks to a £27 million funding boost for the charity Think Ahead.

The new funding – which has been welcomed by mental health charity Mind – will help recruit and train a new wave of mental health social workers, who will form a vital part of the response to coronavirus. Applications for the graduate places have opened today.

The recruits are trained to provide psychological and practical support to help people with serious mental illness, such as severe depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, and address issues such as relationships, housing and employment, which can have a huge bearing on mental wellbeing.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on mental health – and recent research suggests that those with pre-existing mental health conditions are at greater risk of significant, long-term negative effects.1

This new funding will give the most vulnerable the support they need by expanding the Think Ahead programme by 60% – from 100 trainees each year to 160 – training up to 480 new mental health social workers across England over the next 3 years.

Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Nadine Dorries said:

"The impact of the pandemic on those with pre-existing mental health conditions could be significant and long lasting.

"The NHS, local services and charities have done an excellent job in being there to support those who have needed help throughout the pandemic, but it is vital that we ensure our services are fit to meet ongoing demand.

"By expanding the mental health workforce this new funding will boost support for the most vulnerable at a time when they need it most."

Think Ahead Chief Executive, Ella Joseph, said:

"We are delighted to be able to train hundreds more social workers, who will play a key part in the nation’s mental health recovery from coronavirus.

"The pandemic has shown us more than ever that social factors like isolation, relationships, finances and living arrangements have profound impacts on mental health – social workers are uniquely placed to help people with severe mental health problems to address issues like these."

The Think Ahead programme offers talented graduates and those looking to change career a paid route into frontline mental health services, run by the NHS and local authorities, with training delivered on the job in partnership with Middlesex University.

The programme, which began in 2016, has been a huge success, and so far has recruited over 500 mental health social workers. It is recognised in the Times Top 100 Graduate Employers list as one of the top 40 graduate schemes in the country, and receives more than 30 applications for each place.

Applications for the 2021 intake have opened today, with the selection process focusing on the motivation and skills to make a difference to vulnerable people.

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, said:

"It’s great to see further funding for Think Ahead. The programme is supporting people who want to become mental health social workers and change the lives of people who experience serious mental health problems.

"People’s social circumstances – such as their finances, living arrangements and relationships – are crucial to good mental health. That has become even more clear this year as the coronavirus has had a deep impact on many people’s lives."

Claire Murdoch, NHS England’s National Director of Mental Health Director, said:

"Expanding mental health care for patients, including by boosting our workforce, is an important priority for the NHS so it’s absolutely good news that the Think Ahead programme is being enhanced, recognising that its trainees have already supported thousands of people across dozens of NHS mental health trusts in England.

"Mental health social workers have a vital role to play in helping to ensure that people receive the mental health and care support they need, as the NHS continues to deliver care to people who need it, as we have done throughout the pandemic."

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