Young, gifted - and ready to tackle the mental illness epidemic

On a recent home visit, Levi Chambers-Cook came upon a harrowing sight. “I found someone after they had just taken an intentional overdose,” she says. “Luckily, she was still alive.”

It is not the kind of work that the 24-year-old imagined for herself while growing up in Surrey and then completing a degree in English. But it is exactly the kind of work that Britain, with its mental illness epidemic and social care crisis, urgently needs.

As of today, there will be almost 100 new mental health social workers entering the workforce – the first graduates of a two-year programme run by Think Ahead, a fast-track training scheme.

“Mental health social work is not a profession which historically people coming straight out of university would’ve known about,” says Natalie Acton, co-founder of the charity, which has almost 300 recruits training to graduate in future years. Social work may have long fallen out of fashion, but Acton says there were 23 applicants for each place “showing there’s a real demand for this kind of work amongst young people”.

Chambers-Cook’s experience helps explain why. She was working for a pharmaceuticals recruitment company, but felt like an outsider because of her values and ethics. She wanted to work for disadvantaged people “and agitate for them on the frontline”, an aspiration that chimes with the broad values and sensibilities of a generation.

Read the feature in the Guardian.

[This piece was published on 28/09/18]