Mental Health and Addiction (MH&A) concerns affect millions of individuals and families worldwide. As one of the primary professions in the mental health workforce, social workers (SWs) play an important role in screening, assessment, and treatment of MH&A concerns. According to the CSWE’s 2019 workforce survey, new SWs working in a wide range of settings reported that 70% of their clients have mental health disorders and 35% have substance abuse disorders. Despite SWs’ central role in service provisions, there have been concerns about the extent to which SW programs prepare students to assess mental health, addictions, and suicide risks. Few SW programs have required addiction courses, few include suicide risk assessment in curricula, and MSW graduates report low levels of knowledge, skills, and confidence in assessing these critical areas. It is crucial to teach SW students to conduct comprehensive addiction, mental health, and suicide risk assessments to provide effective and ethical SW practice. Current knowledge of how MH&A education has been carried out in SW education is important to address the existing gap and inform future SW educators.
We will present the results of a scoping review examining SW education and training in addictions, mental health, and suicide. The objectives of this review included: (1) scoping the extent, range, and nature of literature on SW education and training in mental health, addictions, and suicide; (2) synthesizing the existing literature to provide an overview of education and training initiatives in SW for mental health, addictions, and suicide; and 3) identifying gaps to guide future research, education, and practice.
The scoping review protocol was developed using the PRISMA Extension for Scoping Reviews (PRISMA-ScR) guidelines and we followed Arksey and O’Malley’s (2005) scoping review framework. The search strategy was developed by a research team including a librarian and the search was conducted in seven academic databases. Conceptual, empirical, and teaching articles from 2000 to present, focusing on addictions, mental health, and suicide, in SW education were screened using a priori and iteratively refined inclusion and exclusion criteria. We used a charting form to extract data and a qualitative thematic analysis to identify key themes.
Thirty-nine articles met inclusion criteria, with most being American. Most empirical studies used quantitative methods, and most trainings and programs targeted students in educational settings. Addictions were the largest focus area (49%), followed by suicide (26%), mental health (18%), and a mixed focus (8%). Ten studies used the SBIRT model, and simulation was used in more than one-quarter of the papers. Most studies reported an improvement in students’ skills and knowledge post-training. More than half did not identify a guiding theoretical framework, and most studies did not mention culture and diversity.
Conclusions and Implications:
This review shows that there is limited research on how mental health, addictions, and suicide are taught and, except SBIRT, there are no trainings or curricula that have been replicated and evaluated. We will discuss recommendations for preparing students more adequately for SW practice in mental health and addictions.