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Mental health jobs: five challenging roles you could pursue

Mental health jobs are extremely challenging, but very rewarding. If you’re interested in working with people and using your career to really make a difference, it could be the path for you.

 There are plenty of different mental health careers out there, but they have a few things in common: these roles all require compassion, empathy and excellent listening skills. In this guide we’ll take a look at five jobs in mental health, their tasks and responsibilities, skills required, and how to break into the role.

 1. Mental health nurse

Role and responsibilities:

As one of the key jobs in mental health, mental health nurses support people with a wide range of mental illnesses – that might mean helping someone with stress and anxiety issues, or more serious problems such as personality disorders and drug addiction.

 Mental health nurse Will told us: “I enjoy my job because no day is the same. I manage my own caseloads, conducting new patient assessments, reviewing treatment plans as well as visiting young people at home and in school. A key part of my job is working with a patient’s parents, carers and teachers and other agencies such as social workers. My role is key to linking all elements of a patient’s life together so they can receive the best possible care and support.”

Skills and traits required:

  • Good at working in a team.
  • Calm in difficult or challenging situations.
  • Good at gaining people’s trust and putting people at ease.
  • Can think on your feet.
  • Can understand body language.
  • Confident and courageous.

Routes in:

You can become a mental health nurse by doing a degree in mental health nursing that is approved by the Nursing and Midwifery Council. Entry requirements vary for each university, but you’ll normally need to have at least five GSCEs at grade C or above, and at least two A-levels, including a science or health-related subject. You can apply for the degree course via UCAS.

You can now also follow this career path by doing the new nursing degree apprenticeship. You apply to become an apprentice with an NHS employer and then are released for study at a university. These apprenticeship usually take four years, and you’ll receive an apprentice’s salary.

Before applying for either routes, give yourself the edge by doing work experience. Any work experience that involves caring for others – such as in a hospital, with a mental health charity, or community work – will look great on your application. 

2. Psychiatrist 

Role and responsibilities:

One of the best-known jobs in mental health, a psychiatrist is a doctor who takes care of people with mental health problems and illnesses. They assess, diagnose and treat patients, usually working in a team of health and social care professionals. They help people with an array of issues, including schizophrenia, depression, drug addiction, eating disorders and phobias. Psychiatrists may also help people to cope with difficulties in their lives, such as divorce or family problems. Psychiatrists may then recommend counselling, prescribe medication and suggest practical ways for patients to stay happy and healthy.

Skills and traits required:

  • Genuine interest in how people think and feel.
  • Excellent people skills, including listening and communication.
  • Interest in science and medicine.
  • Curious, with an investigative streak.
  • Research skills.
  • Motivated and committed.

Routes in:

This is one of those mental health careers where you’ll need a degree. To become a fully qualified psychiatrist you must complete:

  • A five-year degree in medicine
  • A two-year foundation programme of general training
  • A six-year specialist training programme in psychiatry

During the six years of speciality training, you’ll gain experience in the different areas of psychiatry. You could then choose to specialise in one of the following areas: general adult, old age, children, learning disability, medical psychotherapy or forensic.

3. Social worker

Social workers help their clients find solutions to problems

Role and responsibilities:

Social workers help people and families to live happier, more fulfilling lives. They encourage people (usually called clients or sometimes ‘service users’) to live independently; protect them from harm or abuse; and help them find solutions to problems.

Many social workers are employed in the mental health field, working with people who have mental illness, or drug and alcohol problems.They might be based in offices, hospitals, health clinics or residential centres.

Social worker Jess told us: “Social workers end up seeing a wide variety of people, always with the aim of trying to help them make a positive change. I find mental illness a fascinating subject as it can present in a myriad of ways and can be pretty poorly understood.

“By working in this field I’m able to educate service users, their families and others about the impact mental ill-health can have, as well as the stigma that many people face on a daily basis because of it.”

Skills and traits required:

Routes in:

In order to become a social worker, you will need a degree in social work that us approved by the Health and Care Professions Council. The course usually takes three years. Entry requirements vary – you will typically need at least five GCSEs at grade C or above, and two A-levels.

Work experience is important. “Once I decided I wanted to train as a social worker,” Jess added, “I spent a year or so volunteering as a befriender with a local charity and as a rape crisis phone counsellor to help develop some of the people skills I thought I would need (ie active listening, working with emotive situations, working with isolated and vulnerable people etc).”

4. Counsellor

Role and responsibilities:

Counsellors talk through a patient’s problems and feelings, listening to their answers to various questions. They then come up with a set of “coping strategies” to help the patients feel better. They might be addressing issues like addiction, bereavement, relationship problems or divorce, trauma, anxiety, stress or depression.

Skills and traits required:

  • The ability to talk to people from all walks of life.
  • Empathy and compassion.
  • Patience and a tolerant, non-judgemental outlook.
  • Emotional resilience.

 Laura is an NSPCC counsellor. She told us: “Having interests that help you cope with the things you may hear is useful and is one of the questions I was asked at interview. I regularly go to the gym which I find helps me switch off after work.”

Routes in:

Good counsellors are registered with with bodies such as the British Association of Counsellors and Psychiatrists (BACP) or the National Counselling Society (NCS).To register with the BACP or the NCS, you will need a level 4 diploma in a subject like counselling and psychiatry. Higher qualifications, such as degrees, are also available. You’ll need to work towards your qualification with a college or university which is approved by the body you want to register with.

5. Educational psychologist 

Educational psychologists work with young people

Tasks and responsibilities:

One of the mental health jobs focussed on young people, educational psychologists use a psychological approach to help children who are struggling in the early stages of their development or education because of psychological, social or emotional problems, or because of other disabilities.

Skills and traits required:

Routes in:

Psychology jobs require a psychology degree. This should be have the stamp of approval of the British Psychological Society (BPS).

Read this next: Medicine & Healthcare Careers

Main image via Freepik; social worker and young people via Flickr.