School of Social and Political Science

PgCert Advanced Social Work Studies - Mental Health Officer (MHO) Award

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The deadline to apply for September 2024 entry is Saturday 31 August 2024.

"....the richest learning experience during my career as a social worker."

This programme is the postgraduate qualification for qualified social workers wanting to practise as mental health officers (MHOs). It has been designed by, and is delivered in partnership with, 12 local authorities in the East of Scotland.

Mental health is a highly contested field and there have been significant recent advances in how it is understood and who gets to define what it actually is. In reflecting these developments, the Mental Health Officer Programme draws of a wide range of perspectives and it benefits, in particular, from contributions from people with lived experience of mental distress and the psychiatric system, including those who have been made subject to compulsory measures, such as detention in hospital.

These provide invaluable insights for students in figuring out what effective mental health officer (MHO) practice might be. They are complimented by inputs from a range of professionals including MHOs, psychiatrists, psychologists and advocacy workers. 

This breadth of views and experience encourages students to develop a critical appreciation of the role and also ensures the programme keeps up to date with changes in law, policy and practice.


This programme focuses upon the role of the MHO in relation to relevant Scottish legislation. In addition to the taught elements, students undertake two periods of assessed MHO practice.

Under Section 32(2) of the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003 local authorities have a statutory duty to appoint and provide training for MHOs to undertake mandatory MHO responsibilities, enshrined in legislation: mainly the 2003 Act, but also the Adults with Incapacity Act 2000 and the Criminal Proceedings Act 1995.

This programme’s primary aim is to provide the required MHO qualification in partnership with the East of Scotland MHO Award Partnership.


The programme comprises four courses and two practice placements which are taught full-time over a condensed academic year.

We start with two days induction in mid-October followed by the first course, which begins in late November.

It provides an introduction to some of the key issues and current thinking in the field of mental health and encourages students to take a critical look at subjects and concepts including mental illness, psychiatric diagnoses, recovery and contemporary developments in mental health law.

The subsequent three courses are structured around the main statutes that frame the MHO role, namely: the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003; the Criminal Procedures (Scotland) Act 1995; and the Adults with Incapacity (Scotland) Act 2000.

Teaching and learning activities enable students to gain a detailed understanding of this framework and how it interfaces with adult protection legislation.

A central focus is the pivotal role MHOs play in navigating the ethical and human rights challenges inherent in this work. The programme structure enables students to apply their academic learning to real-life situations during the practice placements, supported and supervised by experienced MHOs.

Career opportunities

The programme is unique in that you will be employed by your sponsoring local authority but the Advanced Social Work Studies - PgCert Mental Health Officer Award allows you to practice as MHOs and thus widens your career opportunities both with your current employers and across the Scottish local authority sector.

How to apply

Apply for September 2021 entry

Fees and costs

Award Title Duration Study mode  
PgCert   1 Year Part-time Tuition fees
Reading recommendations

If you're looking to get started on some provisional reading before your course begins, we recommend the following:


  • Coleborne, C. (2020). Why Talk About Madness? Bringing History into the Conversation. Cham: Springer International Publishing.
  • Cohen, B. M. Z. (2018). Routledge International Handbook of Critical Mental Health. 1st ed., Vol. 1. Milton: Routledge.
  • Cummins, I. (2019). Mental Health Social Work Reimagined. Bristol: Policy press.
  • Davidson, G., Campbell, J., and Mulholland, C. (2017). Models of Mental Health. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan [E-book].
  • Spandler, H., Anderson, J., and Sapey, B. (2015). Madness, Distress and the Politics of Disablement. Bristol: Policy Press.
Additional information

What our students say

"I undertook the MHO course two years ago. To date, this has been the richest learning experience during my career as a social worker.

Not only did the course consolidate prior knowledge and skills within the arena of mental health work, but it provided invaluable learning with regards to the interplay between mental ill health, ethical practice and statutory responsibilities. 

"My assessment skills are generally sharper as I have a deeper appreciation and understanding of the social model of mental health and illness. Risk assessment skills have also improved with further knowledge on the complex interplay between positive risk taking, supported decision making and the requirement for care and treatment. 

"Being part of a wider MDT with a professional identify was the highlight of the course. Here, I noted a shift away from resource lead assessments to outcome based and person centred practice.

"I have been fortunate enough to continue practicing as an MHO which has been a dream come true. However, this course will most certainly improve all aspects of special work practice. I cannot recommend the course enough. Course content is varied and thought provoking. The course coordinator/s are extremely knowledgable and supportive.

"A learning experience not to be missed!"

– A Boni, previous student