Those who deal directly with mental health are primarily psychologists, psychotherapists, psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses. All these people help individuals with mental health problems to cope with their condition and either find ways to manage it or to overcome it.
Scope of Work
Although there are different specific roles for people who work in mental health, there are many similarities in the types of tasks undertaken. Typical daily roles might include:
- Assessment of a client or patient's mental health
- Assessment of suicide risk
- Diagnosis of mental health conditions
- Seeking consent for treatment
- Treatment planning
- Implementing interventions
- Assessing improvements in mental health
- Keeping patient records
- Arranging for after hours care
- Arranging for hospital admissions
- Organising follow-up treatments
People who work in mental health often form part of a multidisciplinary team. Therefore, there is a need to speak to or work with others when formulating a patient health care plan.
What You Need to Learn
Assessment - mental state, suicidal thoughts, referral procedures
- Mental health disorders - knowledge of disorders, signs & symptoms, course, comorbidity
- Psychological theory - mental & physical health, stress responses, self-esteem, coping skills, personality
- Psychopharmacology - effects of medications, dependence, misuse & abuse of substances
- Communication skills - verbal, non-verbal, interviewing, educating clients/patients
- Counselling skills - attending, listening, confrontation, focusing, reflection of meaning, influencing
- Counselling theory - behaviour therapy, CBT, person-centred therapy, psychodynamic therapy
- Legal & ethical issues - confidentiality, multicultural competence, informed consent
- Health & safety - knowledge of OH&S procedures, crisis support contacts
- Writing skills - note taking, report writing, record keeping
- Planning skills - organising sessions, planning interventions, working out schedules
Starting a Career
People who work in mental health roles may come from a variety of backgrounds. Some have always been attracted to this sort of work. They may begin by joining youth clubs and becoming a team leader, helping other adolescents find their feet, or they may look for a role as a youth worker after leaving school.
Some take on volunteer work for telephone counselling or crisis services and find they can learn skills and knowledge from others already doing this work. There are also many mental health societies and groups which release monthly newsletters or quarterly journals. Joining them can be a valuable source of information and expose you to people with similar interests.
Others come into this field later in life, perhaps as a second or third career having done other things first. They are able to draw on their life's experience and bring a more mature mindset to helping others.
However you begin, taking on some foundation courses is always helpful since you won't learn everything on the job. It will also prepare you for more advanced roles.
Progressing a Career
To progress a career in mental health requires you to take professional development courses or training. Some roles will have requirements for a certain number of hours of additional training to be undertaken each year. Other positions may be less stringent but you will inevitably need to keep learning if you wish to improve your services.
There are many other ways to refine your skills and gain promotions, or to advance a business for those in private practice. These include:
- Joining professional bodies which represent your industry
- Attending conferences
- Networking - going to talks, using social media
- Taking workshops and seminars - during or outside work hours
- Getting involved with self-help or other mental health groups