Mental Health Needs: Social Workers Can Help

Mental health needs and mental illness account for a staggering amount of public health and intervention concerns. They are prevalent not only in the United States but around the world. In the aftermath of COVID-19 and the incredible stresses and strict lockdowns it imposed on large percentages of the world’s population, those needs have only increased and show no signs of slowing.

Because of this, there has never been a greater need for professionals equipped to treat various mental illnesses. While a number of different types of professionals in today’s mental health and medical landscapes are positioned to create positive impacts for those struggling with mental illness, one of the most vital cogs in the system is made up of social workers.

Uniquely trained to help people with a wide variety of difficult life circumstances, social workers are usually deployed in places or through organizations that make them accessible to people in a wide range of situations. If you or someone you love is struggling with a mental health issue, social workers can offer a resource that can often be easier to access than clinical specialists. They can provide baseline support or help you navigate crisis situations.

Mental Health Needs Social Workers are Equipped to Navigate

Though some specialize in particular areas of service or care, social workers are trained in the fundamentals of a wide variety of crisis and service areas and can thus provide effective interventions for many different ailments connected to mental illness.

Substance Misuse

Drug, narcotic, or alcohol overuse and hazards can be highly harmful or even deadly. They can create strong addictions, deep-set habits, and behavioral difficulties that can be very difficult to change or correct. When people are struggling with the effects of substance misuse, social workers can intervene.

Substances can negatively impact not only individuals but their family members, children, friends, coworkers, neighbors, and more. It’s vitally important to reach out and receive professional assistance with a case of substance abuse. Social workers can provide a first contact to attend to the situation.


Traumatic circumstances happen all the time. However, some people suffer prolonged effects from these events and experience lasting trauma. This should receive attention and support from a professional who can help identify and mitigate the residue of traumatic experiences and assist the individual in recovering from those traumatic events.

Without intervention, trauma can deepen and lead to other mental and even physical health complications down the road. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an example of how trauma can create lasting difficulties for people who have experienced it.

Examples of trauma-inducing events can include those endured by veterans, by those who have experienced varying forms of abuse, or by those who have suffered difficult personal loss (like the death of a close friend or family member).


Clinically diagnosed anxiety can be significantly life-impacting and difficult. Anxiety can be crippling if it is not effectively treated. It can also cause things like anxiety or panic attacks, psychological and physical phenomena that can sometimes become debilitating.

Clinical anxiety disorder is often treated with therapy and, in some cases, medication. Social workers can help in the case of an anxiety episode or a panic attack. They can help assess an individual’s anxiety and recommend next steps for evaluation and treatment, along with connecting that individual with the resources and services necessary for the particulars of the case.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are often associated with forms of mental illness. Eating disorders combine psychological stress or trauma with dangerous nutritional deficits or problems and can be extremely harmful for individuals that experience them. They can create lasting or even lifetime health repercussions if not treated effectively, and can sometimes be fatal if not helped in time.

Social workers are equipped to handle eating disorders and recommend what steps are necessary for an individual who might be experiencing one. This could range from clinical therapy to hospitalization in some cases. Eating disorders are complex and can be extremely serious.

Examples of How Social Workers Are Making a Difference

Social work has been deployed in varying ways by different municipalities across the United States. Examples exist across the country of innovative ways that the practice of social work has been made available to the public or combined with other civil and health services to utilize their unique capabilities, training, and skill sets.

Many cities are experimenting with various forms of crisis intervention teams or protocols to respond to emergency situations that involve mental illness or other situations that social workers are uniquely equipped to handle. Sometimes these programs link a member of police personnel with a social worker or medical professional to respond to emergency calls.

In Houston, Texas, a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) has been dispatching duos that consist of a social worker and police officer in response to relevant 911 calls since 2008.

In Denver, Colorado, the Support Team Assisted Response (STAR) program pairs an emergency medic and a mental health professional to respond to emergency calls that involve overdoses, intoxication, homelessness, suicide risks, or drug use. This program officially launched in 2020 after a four-year pilot test.

Eugene, Oregon has been employing this same strategy since 1989. Called Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Street (CAHOOTS), this program responds to roughly 20% of the total 911 emergency calls the city receives.

In each of these examples, social workers are serving on the front lines of emergency response and crisis intervention. They are changing lives, ensuring that vulnerable people receive the help they need, and de-escalating situations that could become deadly in some cases.

In a world that has arguably never before experienced the mental health strain it currently bears, the unique skill sets and training that social workers contribute to those they serve can dramatically increase the likelihood that individuals in crisis receive effective interventions and treatment, leading ultimately to much better chances for recovery and long-term health. Social workers are contributing meaningfully to the mental health crisis in the United States.