how to become a mental health worker

One in five people will experience some kind of mental health problem over the course of their lifetime. Yet, society often overlooks them. If you would like to have a rewarding but challenging career. In which, you play an important role for people who often don’t get the help they need. Then, you will make a wonderful mental health worker. You work with people who have a wide range of mental health problems affecting their way of life on different levels. They might have post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression or other conditions such as bipolar or eating disorders. Your goal is to help them improve their lives. You do this through counselling or by referring them to social service programs. Or even, by developing groundbreaking new mental health interventions. The role is exciting, challenging and highly varied. Expect to stay on your toes.

Are you a committed person with a passion for helping? Does the field of mental health interest you? Would you like to play a part in helping people to take steps towards improving their lives? If yes, then keep reading to discover what it takes to become a mental health worker.

Step one: Choose a Course 

In order to find a job as a mental health worker, you must study first. You will need to hold a bachelor’s degree in social work or hold a recognised nursing qualification. Investing time in your education is crucial. This challenging career requires specialist knowledge, which means learning first. You can do it!

Step two: Register with the Australian Association of Social Workers

Once you have finished your degree, then you will need to register with the Australian Association of Social Workers. After registering you are officially recognised as a mental health worker. You will also benefit from the membership by gaining access to resources and a professional network. Make sure you check out early on, what the requirements for registering are. So when the time comes you are prepared.

Step three: Gain some Experience

Before you apply for your first job as a mental health worker, it is worthwhile to have relevant work experience under your belt. You can look for part-time opportunities while you study. Or you can gain work experience in an entry-level mental health role after graduating.

Step four: Look for your first job as a Mental Health Worker

Mental health workers have competitive salaries, and there is a strong need for their services across the country. When applying for your first job you need to tailor your resume and cover letter for each application. Don’t forget to emphasise your qualifications, experience, and personal strengths.

Step five: Consider a specialisation

As a mental health worker, you have already specialised. However, you can use the skills and expertise you build up to progress further along the career ladder or refocus your career. Here are three specialisations you can consider once you have experience and would like to progress. 

Accredited Mental Health Social Workers

As an accredited mental health social worker you have a special recognition from the Australian Association of Social Workers. The accreditation confirms you have specialist knowledge and expertise in the field of mental health. Social workers who take private contracts then use this accreditation to find work through government programs.

Health Sector Management

As a mental health worker, you will build up extensive experience and knowledge of the mental health field. If you are keen to progress into a management role then this experience will serve you very well. Health sector management roles have more responsibility and see you taking charge of administration, budgets, contract management, policy development, staff recruitment, and training.

Public Health Worker

A public health worker keeps their focus on working directly with the people they want to help. However, in this case, you are involved with public health campaigns in relation to mental health. If you really enjoy the aspect of your work which involves interacting and working directly with people and communities this specialisation will make a good choice. You may hold public presentations, have a say in program and policy development, and help with the training of other professionals.

 Mental Health Worker Duties

First and foremost the focus of your daily work is to support your clients to address their mental health problems. You will do this in a number of ways. Firstly, you carry out assessments of each individual’s needs. Then, based on your recommendations, you may give them counselling which could be one-on-one or in a group. You may also, refer them to, and help them to access other mental health services. You follow through with them, keeping in touch and making adjustments to your recommendations as needed. Importantly, you will keep accurate records of the contact you have with your clients. As an experienced professional working in the field, on a daily basis, you may also contribute to developing new services. In addition, you play a role in community education, in relation to mental health issues, which can often be taboo or simply ignored. 


  • Assessing client needs and monitoring their progress
  • Giving counselling
  • Holding group sessions
  • Liaising with other service providers
  • Contributing to mental health program development
  • Able to keep accurate written records

Skills for Success

For success as a mental health worker, you will first need to have a good understanding of mental health problems. As well as, the treatment options and what the current best practice is for various conditions. This knowledge needs to be sought through education and work experience. You must relate to people even if you come from different backgrounds or cultures. Patience, tact, and calm assertiveness is important. You need to have a good feel for when it is appropriate to approach with gentleness, and when a firm hand is needed. Being able to put in place professional boundaries and to maintain those boundaries is highly important. Lastly, you may need to make decisions under pressure, and these decisions must come from a place of knowledge. You need to have get up and go. At the same time, you should be a problem solver, compassionate and emotionally resilient.

Skills and attributes

  • A good understanding of mental health problems and treatments
  • Excellent people skills
  • Good at problem-solving
  • Take informed actions without hesitation
  • An understanding of the mental health and social services sector
  • Able to put in place firm boundaries
  • Quality writing

How much do Mental Health Workers get paid in Australia?

In Australia, mental health workers earn a median wage of $55,581 per year. This varies according to a number of factors and is intended as a reference only, from Payscale 05/’18.

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