Comments on the National Advisory Mental Health Council's Report on Mental Health and Aging

September 12, 2003

Thomas R. Insel, M.D.
Director National Institute of Mental Health
6001 Executive Boulevard
Bethesda, MD 20892

Dear Dr. Insel:

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the National Advisory Mental Health Council’s (NAMHC) Workgroup on Aging Research draft report titled, Aging Well, Staying Well: Research for the Mental Health Needs of Older Americans. This report highlights some key issues for NASW and social workers, specifically the following principles detailed in this report:

  • A life-span approach is vital to understanding mental health and illness;
  • It is important to understand successful or healthy aging, as well as the causes, course, and consequences of mental illnesses in later life;
  • Effective preventive interventions in late life mental illnesses are greatly needed; and
  • Knowledge born of NIMH-sponsored psychogeriatric research must be broadly disseminated to the benefit of all older Americans and their caregivers.

This report emphasizes a strengths-based approach to mental health services for older Americans. As one of the few professions that historically have focused on strengths-based interventions, NASW is supportive of this language. NASW is encouraged by the fact that this report includes specific language regarding the psychosocial impact of mental illness.

Furthermore, NASW supports the sixth recommendation of the report, suggesting that a meeting be convened of the professional associations and other stakeholders to foster the development of training models that provide exposure to geriatrics research. As the largest organization representing the social work profession in the U.S., NASW represents a wide variety of professionals who work with the aging population and in the mental health field. A large majority of social workers who work in community settings provide services to older adults and their caregivers.

According to a 1998 report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), social workers provide the majority of direct mental health services in the U.S. Furthermore, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that social work jobs will increase faster than the average for all occupations through 2010. This same report indicates that one of the largest growth areas for social work jobs will be in the area of gerontology. As the population grows older, and the need for mental health services associated with aging increases, it is anticipated that the role of social workers in providing mental health services to the aging population will increase as well.

NASW is proud to represent social workers who are committed to providing mental health services to the aging population. The Association is also committed to helping ensure that future opportunities are secured for the social work profession and our members. NASW encourages the adoption of the recommendations contained in this report by the National Institute of Mental Health. We look forward to the benefits that may result from implementing these recommendations.


Elizabeth J. Clark, PhD, ACSW, MPH
Executive Director