Mental Health

Mental illness affects one in five American adults, or 45.6 million people, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Social workers are the largest group of clinically trained mental health providers in the United States.

Mental health social workers are trained to work in clinical settings that offer services and support to those suffering from mental health disorders and substance abuse, as well as victims or perpetrators of violence. These social workers work with individuals to offer services, advocacy and hope, forming relationships that help some of our most vulnerable to overcome issues that are often misunderstood and misrepresented in society.

The Mental Health concentration will prepare you to:

  • Gain an appreciation of mental health as a holistic concept related to a state of positive well-being, not merely the absence of illness.
  • Develop skills for the psychosocial assessment of commonly encountered mental health problems, including crises, grief and loss, trauma, and situational and adjustment difficulties — which can be compounded by severe mental illness, homelessness, co-morbidity, health problems, violence, poverty and discrimination.
  • Design and implement treatment plans for individuals, families, couples and groups that account for social factors, such as age, gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status, sexual orientation and physical ability.
  • Apply a recovery orientation, consumer empowerment and cultural competence in your practice.
  • Understand how social policies and mental health funding streams affect service delivery systems and clients, particularly members of underserved populations.

Social workers trained in mental health work in a range of settings:

  • Community mental health centers
  • Behavioral health facilities
  • Disaster relief programs
  • Employee assistance programs
  • Hospitals and skilled nursing facilities
  • Military and veterans services
  • Rehabilitation programs
  • Schools

"The Mental Health concentration will prepare me to help families and individuals who deal with a diverse range of problems, whether social, economic or health-related."

Niekachi Nwogu
MSW@USC Student, Mental Health Concentration

Concentration Requirements

  • Human Development and Mental Health
    This course focuses on understanding problem-producing behaviors and their ramifications for clients in mental health settings, including individuals, families and groups. This video features case studies used in the course with commentary by guest lecturer Dan Siegel, who discusses the importance of the brain and neural connections in helping people with mental health problems.

  • Evaluation of Research: Mental Health
    This course explores a range of research conducted in mental health, including the evaluation of selected research reports and their application to social work practice.
  • Clinical Practice in Mental Health Settings
    This course examines social work processes from intake to termination with an emphasis on the clinical skills required for social work practice in a broad spectrum of mental health settings.

Field Placement

As a student in the Mental Health concentration, you will complete one of your field placement requirements at a site in or near your community that supports your concentration choice and your career goals. You can learn more about field placement here.


You may choose to supplement your Mental Health concentration with a sub-concentration in Military Social Work or Older Adults.

Traditional Curriculum | Advanced Standing Curriculum

Learn More About Mental Health