At Think Ahead, we want to see a society where everyone with mental health problems can flourish. That won’t happen unless people can improve their social circumstances – because life issues like relationships, living arrangements, and employment have profound effects on mental wellbeing.
To drive change we created the Think Ahead programme, one of the UK’s most competitive graduate schemes, to offer remarkable graduates and career-changers a new route into mental health social work.
Through the programme and our wider work, we attract talented people into mental health services, strengthen training, and spread social approaches to mental health across society.
How does your organisation contribute to preventing suicide and supporting those affected by it?
At Think Ahead we recruit, train, and support graduates and career-changers who want to become mental health social workers.
As mental health social workers, our participants and alumni support people experiencing severe and enduring mental illnesses – such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression. People with serious mental illness die on average 20 years earlier than the general population, and are at a higher risk of suicide. Our participants support people with the social factors in their lives – such as living arrangements, employment, and relationships – thus giving them hope and empowering them to lead fulfilling lives.
What are your current priorities?
We have just been awarded up to £27m by the government, to fund at least two further cohorts of the Think Ahead graduate programme, each providing 160 places per year – a 60% increase in the annual intake. Recruiting, training and supporting these future mental health social workers is our priority. They will support at least 10,000 of the most vulnerable people experiencing severe and enduring mental illness by 2025.
What challenges are you currently facing?
Because we are supporting frontline mental health staff, we share their challenges. In recent times, the coronavirus pandemic has created increased risks for the physical and mental health of everyone in society, therefore increasing pressure on mental health services. It’s also having a significant impact on the way mental health social workers can fulfil their duties. Face-to-face contact is key in helping social workers build relationships with the people they support, but because of the pandemic, it has been severely reduced. Yet we know that our participants, alumni, and mental health staff everywhere are working hard to come up with solutions, including by embracing new technologies and finding creative new ways to support service users, as well as making judgments about when they do still need to have face-to-face contact with people who are particularly unwell or at risk.