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What Does a Mental Health Worker Do?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 14 August 2014
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A mental health worker is a person involved in treatment or support for people with mental illness. A number of jobs are available in the mental health field, ranging from nursing in psychiatric institutions to providing support through government agencies to people with mental illnesses who are applying for government benefits. Qualifications required for this type of work vary, depending on the position, as in some cases people may need medical and psychological training, while in other instances, they can learn on the job.

A key part of the job for a mental health worker involves interacting with people who have mental illnesses, often when they are in crisis or are experiencing problems with managing their conditions. On one end of the spectrum, a mental health worker can evaluate people with suspected mental illness to screen them, determine if they have a medical issue, and refer them to people who can help, including therapists and psychiatrists. Other mental health workers are directly involved in working with and caring for people living with a diagnosis.

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In medical facilities, mental health workers provide assistance with daily tasks, administer medications, and may lead group therapy sessions and supervise activities like art therapy. They can also provide legal advice and assistance to people who need help, such as mental health patients fighting their insurance company, trying to get government assistance, or working on getting out of abusive home environments. Mental health workers can also work for residential facilities including group homes for people with mental illness.

Mental health workers in the general community provide counseling services, access to information about help accessing medical care, and assistance to people interacting with mentally ill individuals, such as police officers and educators. When people encounter a situation where a person with mental illness is in danger or endangering other people, a mental health worker may be called for help. She can assess the person, establish communication, and work on reaching a safe resolution.

This type of work can require irregular hours, depending on the type of services someone provides. Being able to interact calmly and professionally with people who may be experiencing an altered level of consciousness, extreme emotional distress, or lack of control over body functions is a necessary skill. Compassion is a valued trait in the mental health profession, and people who have pursued some training, even if it is not specifically required for a position, may be considered more competitive employment applicants for mental health worker positions.

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Discuss this Article

LisaLou
Post 4

There are many different positions that someone interested in mental health work can work in. I don't think it matters how much education one has in this field, a mental health worker job description would be one that is hard to describe.

Only years of training on the job and working with people in this capacity can really prepare you for what you might encounter. My sister works in this field, and one day is never the same as another day.

There are many times when she feels that her job is rewarding when she can really help someone make major changes in their life. There are also many frustrating days when she feels like she is getting nowhere and wonders if anything will ever change.

It has certainly been a challenging job for her and one that she plans to continue working in. She is currently working on getting her masters degree so she can be involved in more of the administrative end of things instead of the day to day contact.

sunshined
Post 3

I think it takes a special person to be a mental health worker. The day to day challenges of this job can be draining.

When one of my good friends was going to medical school she had to do a mental health rotation, and she said it was the saddest and most difficult rotation she did while in school.

A well qualified and compassionate mental health worker really can make a big difference in the lives of those people they work with.

Tomislav
Post 2

@speechie - Mental health workers such as social workers can have quite a change in pay based on the place that they work at.

The last I checked a mental health worker's salary such as a social worker that worked in a substance abuse clinic was typically on average 30,000 dollars a year.

Hope that helps, but there are a variety of mental health jobs she could look into if she find that the mental health social worker salary was not for her.

I know in some states with high costs of living 30,000 dollars per year would be difficult to live on - but another thing she should know is that that in areas where the cost of living is higher health care workers like government workers are often paid more than the national average.

Speechie
Post 1

What a great article - it nailed the trait most needed to make it through the day in any type of mental health worker job: *compassion*.

I am not a mental health worker, but I have had family members who have had to go into the hospital and were taken care of by mental health specialists. These people changed their lives, and I am grateful.

So while I am sure that any person in the mental health field from a mental health support worker to the primary mental health worker can get burnt out from this type of demanding job, I would think that it would be rewarding!

My sister, because of the experiences of other people in my family, is thinking of becoming a mental health social worker. Does anyone know what the salary is for such a job?

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