What could social workers do in China for mental health?

By Ke

Mental health issue is more than a medical problem. Newton (1988) sets three factors that contributes to mental disorder. These are predisposing or vulnerability factor (i.e. genetic components and previous mental health history of individual and family), social causative factor (e.g. social exclusion, unemployed, racism, bias), and psychological factor (e.g. loss, threats, highly critical relationship, low self-esteem) (Golightley, 2014).

Around 30 years ago, NZ department of health recommended to establish multidisciplinary teams, consisting of psychiatrists, nurses, psychologists, social workers and occupational therapists, for mental health service delivery (MHC, 2006). Nowadays, different health professionals and support workers are working together with different team model and providing medical, psychological as well as social support for clients.

Social workers in these teams usually play the role of coordinating between patient, family, community agencies and MDT members, risk identification and management, ensuring the effectiveness of are and discharge plans, facilitating treatment group like CBT, individual counselling, referring clients to other social resources, etc. (Beddoe & Deeney, 2012; Golightley, 2014; &MHC, 2006). Social workers, with the strengths of communicating, high awareness of risk, and well-resourced, will provide effective psycho-social support to clients and teams.

As an international student from developing country, I have witnessed how a client receive comprehensive mental health treatment in New Zealand mental health supporting system, though still with weakness. When I turn my eyes to my home country China, the role of social workers is another story. Based on my personal experience and relevant media report (e.g. Millions of people with mental illnesses in China and India going untreated, study finds ), there are limited mental health support for Chinese, especially for poverty group who even could not afford general heath bills. It is good to see Chinese government start to pay some attention to public mental health recently, but for social workers in China, a country where at least 173 million (Gao, et al., 2017) people are with mental disorder, but with very limited mental health resources, we are facing huge challenge: lack of trained mental health professionals, low investment and high stigma. It is impossible to provide individual support for every mental health clients.

To address these challenges, I think, Chinese social workers could play as advocators, educators and resource connectors more often than delivering individual service. Given the fact that the public are poor with mental health knowledge and seldom ask for professional help, it is necessary to call for more public’s self-awareness and educate public with practical mental health knowledge. Also, there is limited state support for Chinese mental health patients, but Chinese is a big country with many available social resources: more than 40 million registered volunteers, diverse cultural groups who have different traditional mental health wisdom, as well as highly-developed social platforms. If more social resources and social platform could be introduced into service delivery appropriately, the support to more individuals will become more achievable. Social worker’s strengths of communication and advocating will contribute a lot to optimizing the social resources support in this context.


Beddoe, L., & Deeney, C. (2012). Discovering health social work in New Zealand in its published work: Implications for the profession. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 24(1), 1-9, 50-54. Read here

Gao, Q., Fan , H., Di, F., Xia, X., Long, H., & Zhu, H. (2017, 3). Suicide Behaviors in Adult Inpatients with Mental Disorders in Beijing, China. Retrieved from International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5369095/

Golightley, M. (2014). Social Work and Mental Health: 5th edition. Los Angles, London, New Delhi, Singapore, Washington DC: SAGE.

Johnson, S. (2016, 5 18). Millions of people with mental illnesses in China and India going untreated, study finds. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/may/18/millions-people-mental-illness-china-india-untreated-study-lancet

MHC. (2006, 01). Multidisciplinary Team Working: from Theory to Practice. Retrieved from http://www.mhcirl.ie/File/discusspapmultiteam.pdf


About socialworknz

I'm a social work researcher in Aotearoa New Zealand
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