Mental Health Officer Award

Following the approval of the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003 the SSSC introduced the Mental Health Officer Award (MHOA) for mental health officers (MHOs) to meet their duties and requirements.

MHOs are social workers with a minimum of two years post qualifying experience who have gained the MHOA. The MHOA prepares experienced social workers to undertake the statutory role of MHO. MHOs have a unique role in supporting and protecting people vulnerable because of mental disorder. Their duties include:

  • protecting health, safety, welfare, finances and property

  • safeguarding of rights and freedom

  • duties to the court

  • public protection in relation to mentally ill offenders.

MHOs are involved in the assessment of individuals experiencing mental disorder who may need compulsory measures of care, treatment and in some cases, detention. The MHO role carries considerable autonomy and responsibility and involves working alongside medical and legal professionals.


The training of MHOs needs to reflect the high standard of expertise, legal knowledge and autonomy required to undertake the role.

The MHOA (Post Graduate Certificate) is at SCQF level 11. It is only available to social workers currently employed by local authorities. It ensures social workers gain and can demonstrate the applied knowledge, competences and values needed in meeting the developing complexity of the functions and duties of MHOs, and particular skills in relation to mental health social work.  

The MHOA is delivered by a university within a programme provider partnership. There are three MHOA programmes in Scotland:

  • University of Strathclyde and Glasgow Caledonian University in partnership with Learning Network West

  • Edinburgh University Partnership

  • Robert Gordon University Partnership.

To apply you must:


Be nominated by your employing local authority, which will undertake to provide the candidate with support and appropriate learning opportunities.


Hold a professional social work qualification recognised by SSSC. These are the BA Hons Social Work, the Diploma in Social Work (DipSW), the Certificate of Qualification in Social Work (CQSW) and the Certificate in Social Service (CSS). If trained abroad a letter of qualification comparability or a letter of verification issued by SSSC (or one of the other registering Councils in the UK) will be required.


Must be registered on the social worker section of the SSSC Register.


Normally have at least two years post qualifying experience by the start of your programme and have maintained their continuing professional development requirements as defined by SSSC registration.


Satisfy the programme provider that you have the capacity to achieve the MHO Standards to be competently demonstrated for eligibility to be appointed as an MHO and to achieve the award at SCQF level 11.

We produced a report for our Council in January 2015 reporting on the annual quality assurance of the MHOA.  The report considers the qualitative information supplied by providers of the MHOA for 2013-2014 and includes information on number of people starting the course etc.