Social work and mental distress: articulating the connection

Pearse McCusker*, Jackie Jackson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
314 Downloads (Pure)


Mental distress is prevalent across all social work contexts, yet social work’s relationship with mental health is insufficiently articulated and the contributions practitioners make to this area of practice are under-recognised. This action research study sought to explore and address these concerns from academic, educational and practice perspectives. It was conducted in two parts: beginning with social work students at a Scottish university, followed by social workers in three practice settings. This paper reports on part one, which examined students' preparedness for working with mental distress in their final year placements. Using semi-structured questionnaires, a focus group and follow-up interviews, the study set out to enhance understanding of the social work role, identify gaps in educational provision and develop ‘Learning Insights’ to address them. Whilst the results here suggest that many students felt unprepared for the complexity of roles and tasks in working with mental distress, some reported successful engagement in powerful and transformative interventions by the use of relationship-based methods. The findings attest to a largely unsung but distinct professional contribution social work makes to the amelioration of mental distress; one that is relational, that transcends technical-rational concerns and is encapsulated in the concept of connection.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1654-1670
Number of pages17
JournalBritish Journal of Social Work
Issue number6
Early online date5 Oct 2015
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2016


  • mental health and distress
  • social work education
  • professional practice
  • practitioner research


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