Skip to main content

Mental health officers

We support the education and training of social workers to become mental health officers through setting professional standards and competencies.

We also monitor and quality assure the Mental Health Officer Award programmes which are approved by us and delivered by universities.

What is a mental health officer?

Mental health officers (MHOs) are social workers with a minimum of two years post qualifying experience who have gained the Mental Health Officer Award (MHOA), which prepares experienced social workers to undertake the statutory role. 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 role carries considerable autonomy and responsibility and involves working alongside medical and legal professionals.

MHO award

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

The MHOA postgraduate certificate is at SCQF level 11 and it is only available to social workers currently employed by local authorities or health and social care partnerships. It ensures social workers gain and can demonstrate the applied knowledge, competences and values needed in meeting the complexity of the functions and duties of MHOs and particular skills in relation to mental health social work.

There are three MHOA programmes delivered by a university within a programme provider partnership:

  • University of Strathclyde and Glasgow Caledonian University in partnership with Learning Network West
  • Edinburgh University Partnership
  • Robert Gordon University Partnership.

MHO Standards

There are set standards in place, which means that those who successfully complete any approved course offering the MHO Award demonstrate their ability to meet them.

Introduction to the standards and practice competences to achieve Mental Health Officer Award.

Mental Health Officer Report

Read our most recent Mental Health Officer data report here.

It includes, among other things, data on headcount and WTEs by local authority and by population.

We also published extensive time series data on MHOs collected by the Scottish Government from 2005 to March 2012, and subsequently by the SSSC from December 2012 to date. 

Continuous professional learning for MHOs

Qualified MHOs and those in training will regularly access the following key sources of information and guidance to support their practice and continuing professional learning.

Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland

Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland

The Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland aims to be a leading and independent voice in promoting a society where people with mental illness, learning disabilities, dementia and related conditions are treated fairly, have their rights respected, and have appropriate support to live the life of their choice.

Information on their website includes policy and research, law and rights, and good practice guidance.

Forensic Network

Forensic Mental Health network

The Forensic Network was established by Scottish Government in September 2003, following a review of The State Hospitals Board for Scotland. The review coincided with the introduction of new mental health legislation in the form of the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003.

The Forensic Network hosts the School of Forensic Mental Health (SoFMH) and offers teaching and training to all professional groups and agencies involved in the assessment and care of mentally disordered offenders and others requiring similar services. It provides a focus for supporting, developing and delivering multidisciplinary and multi-sector educational and research initiatives. The SoFMH offers academic and short professional courses and coordinates a research special interest group.

Mental Health Tribunal Scotland

The Mental Health Tribunal for Scotland was created on 5 October 2005 by virtue of section 21 of the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scot-land) Act 2003 ("the 2003 Act"). The Tribunal discharges its functions through panels of three members: a legal member (who acts as Convener), a medical member and a general member. The judicial arm of the Tribunal is supported in its functions by the staff of the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS).

The primary role of the Tribunal is to consider and determine applications for compulsory treatment orders (CTOs) under the 2003 Act and to operate in an appellate role to consider appeals against compulsory measures made under the 2003 Act. The Tribunal also plays a monitoring role by periodic review of compulsory measures.

The website for the Mental Health Tribunal Scotland includes links for the field of mental health and information in form of topic guides, reports, articles, codes, guides, databases.

The SSSC also design and develop skills and learning resources to support the continuous professional learning of the workforce.

You can find all of our free learning and support resources on the Learning Zone

The MyLearning app is a recording tool for CPL we’ve produced to help you. It provides a simple way to record your learning as you go along. Find out more and download it for free here

We’d like to hear your views on our resources and if they have supported your professional development. Please click here to answer some short questions

Learning Zone

Watch our short film to discover what you’ll find on our Learning Zone.

Open Educational Resources

Find out how you can use content from our free learning resources as OER in this short film.

Open Badges

Get recognition of your informal learning by claiming Open Badges. There are lots of topics to choose from to support your development