How to become a mental health worker (plus duties)
Updated 21 August 2023
If you're passionate about helping people and interested in mental health, becoming a mental health worker may be a good fit for you. Mental health workers work within mental health settings and support people who are struggling with their mental health. They're trained healthcare professionals who work in hospitals, clinics, health centres and GP practices. In this article, we explore the role of a mental health worker and look at how to become a mental health worker by gaining relevant skills, qualifications and work experience before applying for roles.
What is a mental health worker?
Mental health workers, also called psychological well-being practitioners, are healthcare professionals who work with patients suffering from mental health problems to provide support and care. This includes assessing patients' care needs, scheduling patients with other healthcare professionals, including therapists and doctors, and developing personalised treatment plans for each patient.
Mental health workers collaborate closely with members of other teams, including care, service and support providers, to ensure that each team meets their patients' needs. Mental health workers work with patients suffering from a wide range of mental health problems, including depression, anxiety and substance abuse issues. This complex role requires extensive knowledge of mental health support needs, good listening skills and a passion for helping people. Some of the daily responsibilities of a mental health worker include:
interviewing patients to assess their individual needs
providing daily support to patients and answering questions
planning and running group therapy sessions
promoting positive mental health within the local community
recommending relevant services to clients
maintaining accurate patient care records
supporting and training other mental health professionals
developing new mental health support systems to meet the needs of a community
monitoring the health and wellbeing of patients
How to become a mental health worker
To learn how to become a mental health worker, it's a good idea to gain relevant skills and qualifications before applying for roles. Mental health roles are physically and emotionally challenging, so employers look for candidates with experience working in a mental health setting. Follow the steps below to become a mental health worker by studying for a degree, undertaking an apprenticeship and gaining relevant work experience:
1. Study for a degree
It's not essential to have a degree to become a mental health worker, but it's becoming more commonplace for entrants to this career to hold a degree in a relevant subject. If you're interested in studying at university, studying subjects like psychology or health and social care may enhance your knowledge, develop your skills and open up opportunities to gain work experience via placements in real healthcare settings. Work hard to achieve a 2:1 degree or higher at the undergraduate level, as this helps you demonstrate your competence and dedication to employers.
2. Volunteer in a mental health setting
During or after your degree, try to look for opportunities to gain experience within a healthcare setting. It's possible to volunteer as a community support officer for your local healthcare trust. Employers look for candidates with significant amounts of experience working in a mental health setting, partially to ensure they have the resilience to flourish in such a challenging role. Browse for volunteering options online or call your local healthcare trust to ask for information on any open positions.
Related: How to find volunteer work
3. Undertake an apprenticeship
It's also possible to undertake a psychological well-being practitioner degree apprenticeship. This apprenticeship is for graduates who already hold a relevant degree in a subject like psychology or nursing. An apprenticeship as a psychological well-being practitioner is an efficient way to convert your existing skills into the highly specialised skills you require as a mental health worker and allows you to learn while you earn a salary. Apprenticeships may be extremely competitive, so it's a good idea to support your application with voluntary experience and work experience where possible.
4. Get work experience
If you're struggling to secure a place on an apprenticeship, you may support your application for mental health worker roles and apprenticeships by gaining relevant work experience in a healthcare setting while you apply. Consider applying to work in hospitals and clinics in administrative or support roles or applying for care roles in social care facilities and elderly care homes. Roles like this demonstrate your commitment to helping others and working within a healthcare setting while enabling you to earn an income during the application process.
5. Apply for roles
Once you've gained relevant qualifications and at least a few months of work experience within a mental health setting, start applying for roles as a mental health worker. Browse job listing sites online to find suitable openings in clinics and surgeries near you. You may be able to improve your chances of securing a role by preparing good answers to interview questions in advance and ensuring that your CV and cover letter demonstrate all of the skills and qualities that each job advertisement requests.
What is it like to be a mental health worker?
Mental health workers typically work in hospitals, clinics and GP surgeries, and travel between multiple locations within the local community throughout the week. Most mental health workers work core hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and long-distance or overnight travel is rarely necessary within this role. Mental health workers spend much of their day meeting with patients and other healthcare professionals to discuss treatment plans and monitor patient progress. They may also conduct therapy sessions and spend time writing reports and updating patient records on a computer.
Some mental health workers also provide outreach services in local community centres and schools or travel to patients' homes when necessary. This means that most mental health workers carry a valid driving licence to move quickly between different locations throughout the day. Mental health worker roles are available in most clinics and trusts, and it's rarely necessary to relocate for a job in this industry.
What skills do mental health workers possess?
Mental health workers have a wide variety of skills that prepare them for working with challenging patients in an emotionally tiring role. These skills include hard skills that you may develop during your education and work placements and soft skills that you may develop throughout your personal and professional life. Below is a list of some of the most important skills for mental health workers in clinics and health centres:
Efficient communication skills are essential for mental health workers, who use both verbal and written communication skills on a daily basis. Strong listening skills allow mental health workers to listen to their patients' problems and consider their needs carefully, and clear verbal communication means that you're able to express yourself in a way that all of your patients understand. Also, strong written skills are necessary for communicating with other healthcare professionals and support teams via email.
Empathy and sensitivity
Mental health workers help their clients to understand and cope with some of their problems, and it's necessary that you're able to empathise. Being sensitive to other people's needs and understanding a wide variety of views helps you improve your job performance and build stronger relationships with your clients. While some people are more naturally empathetic than others, with time and effort, anyone can learn how to empathise with other people within a professional setting.
Working as a mental health worker is emotionally challenging and stressful, which is why it's beneficial that candidates are resilient and emotionally stable themselves. In this role, you may work with difficult patients and experience upsetting conversations and events. This is one of the hardest aspects of the role, and most hiring managers look for candidates who demonstrate their ability to work with challenging patients within their application.
Mental health workers are responsible for managing their clients' treatment plans alongside their own schedules. It's also essential that they stay motivated even when their work is both physically and mentally challenging. Being able to work effectively when under pressure without requiring support from colleagues is essential in this career, which is why it's key that mental health workers are both independent and self-motivated.
Explore more articles
- How to become a block manager in 6 steps (with definition)
- 9 jobs you can do with a real estate degree (Plus FAQs)
- How to be a TV researcher (Duties, skills and employers)
- How to become an independent consultant with skills and salary
- How to become a chief technical officer (step by step guide)
- Treatment coordinator duties, requirements and skills
- What Can You Do With a Theology Degree? Careers To Consider
- 9 WordPress Developer Skills: Tips for Improvement
- How to become a roadie: definition, duties and skills
- What does an offshore steward do? (With qualifications)
- How to write a job description template
- What does a commis chef do? (Duties and requirements)