10 things I learned on placement with a mental health organisation – a Social Work Student’s Story

  1. Expect the unexpected. No two days are ever the same working for a mental health organisation. One day I could be responsible for facilitating an art session, the next I might be supporting a participant at a meeting, the next I could be dealing with a crisis, then sweeping the floor or taking paper to the recycling centre. It is so varied and there is no time for boredom!
  2. I can make a difference. Being there for people at their most vulnerable and listening can make a real difference. Empowering people to believe in themselves or their recovery is fantastic.
  3. To have an open mind. Real life experience is so different to learning in a classroom and while a certain approach may have worked for some, I have learned that I constantly need to adapt my approach for different people.
  4. Make time for people and ask questions. Sitting down and having a cup of tea with a service user or a member of staff is not a waste of time, everything is an opportunity to learn more. This could be about a mental health condition or about someone’s perception of social work; the more information you gather the more prepared you will be in practice.
  5. Change does not have to be monumental to be meaningful. If I can be even a small part of the reason that someone made a positive change in their life, I can leave feeling happy and privileged to have been a part of that process.
  6. Be creative. Being creative in whatever way – music, painting, ceramics – really can improve people’s wellbeing. So many participants on my placement have found ways to express themselves through creativity.
  7. Be willing to challenge. Many service users are not receiving support from other services because services have been cut and resources are scarce. I have learnt to advocate for their rights, and it does work!
  8. Mental health difficulties can affect anybody. I have met so many different people affected by mental ill-health – old, young, professionals, mothers – mental health does not discriminate across class lines.
  9. Be willing to learn about different mental health conditions. Once I understood how varied mental health issues can be and how they affect individual experience, it became easier to understand behaviours. I’ve worked with people who hear voices, who have extreme anxiety, who are noise sensitive, who have personality disorders. Understanding symptoms and triggers has helped me to see the person and not the illness.
  10. Take every opportunity that comes your way. Every chance I have been given to do something out of my comfort zone or go somewhere new has been a learning experience for working within a mental health organisation, not just for my future in social work but for my life as a whole.

If you or someone you know is experiencing mental health issues and is based in or around Stockport, UK, please see this page for more information on our wellbeing programmes, or contact the referrals team today at

Nicolle, social work student
, Arc.
November 16th, 2019.