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Social Work Integral to Improved Mental Health Services

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There is a lot of discussion in the mental healthcare field about how to improve care, provide services to those in need, and address ongoing shortages of qualified providers. One of the ways mental healthcare is being improved, however, is through the integration with social work. Abigail Nover in Psychiatry Advisor says that electronic referrals and the use of social workers is a potent combination for providing better mental healthcare services for adolescents in particular.

“After adding social work students to the mental health quality improvement team, first appointment show rates improved from a monthly average of 51% to 78%,” writes Nover. “Both electronic referral and care management by social workers increase the effective use of mental health services for adolescents in the United States significantly, according to research published in Pediatrics.”

Nover cites the major public health issue that is mental health problems among the adolescent population. Apparently, recent research at the University of Pittsburgh medical Center looked at various quality improvement strategies for integrating behavioral health with primary care.

“The research examined two strategies: electronic referral and social work follow-up protocol,” Nover writes. “The authors measured the uptake rate of first mental health appointment, overall mental health appointment use, and first and overall appointment show rate. The data showed that after the implementation of electronic referral, the overall use rate improved greatly. After the addition of social work students to the mental health quality improvement team, first appointment show rates improved from a monthly average of 51% to 78%. The use rate and show rate also improved gradually. After examining 14 consecutive points from November 2015 to December 2016, there was an overall improvement in show rates of first and returning appointments from an average of 67% to 77%.”

While Nover correctly points out that the study has certain limitations, it underscores just what social work can do to improve mental health outcomes specifically and public health in general. Address the root of problems before they become more serious is just one of the things social workers can help to do. When the profession is focused on helping people, as it should be, there is very little qualified social workers cannot accomplish in conjunction with mental healthcare professionals.

“These findings suggest that electronic referrals and social workers equipped with clinical care and coordination skills can increase the effective use of mental health services in an integrated adolescent clinical setting,” Nover concludes. “…[Researchers] advocate integrating mental health services into primary care settings for adolescents, young adults, and potentially other primary care settings” while underscoring the value that social workers can provide to those populations.

What do you think? Do you consider this approach viable? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

1 Comment
    • moses Olu Aina
      Mar 25, 2019 10:04 am Reply

      There is some merit in taking care of adolescents’ mental health issues to address the root of problems before they become more serious. It is also true that social workers can help in this aspect of mental health care among adolescents. However, when it comes to the idea of integrating mental health services into primary care settings for adolescents, care must be taken to address the possible stigma which the word “mental health” can bring into primary care setting.
      The experience of working in a mental health setting shows that the words “mental health” connotes some negativity in the health care setting. The mention of “mental health” makes many people feel that a lot of mental issues are involved in such care system. The generality of people believes that mental health care in whichever form is a special area of health care that can be better served by separating it from the regular health care system.
      Moses Aina
      3/23/19

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