It is estimated that one in five US adults live with some form of mental illness. Alongside this number, there will be many other people in need of guidance or support for various mental health needs, no matter how big or small they are. As a result of this, a broad industry of mental health occupations has spun off from general healthcare jobs.
Many of these jobs in mental health are in demand, so if you are interested in a career in this very rewarding and critical part of society, then read on. Here is a list of the top 15 mental health careers.
1. Alcohol and drug abuse counselor
Licensed alcohol and drug abuse counselors provide expert advice to people who suffer from substance addiction or abuse. The role functions in a similar way to coaches and social workers in that the role is to support people in their management of these addictions and work out a path back to not being dependent on substances.
The role will typically work alongside health services and other voluntary or professional bodies to support people affiliated with these organizations. Even some private companies have their own in-house substance abuse counselors.
2. Engagement and/or wellbeing officer
Engagement officers (or wellbeing officers) are usually employed by companies as part of their HR or diversity, equality, and inclusion (DEI) arms to support the workforce wellbeing and mental health needs. The role requires a broad mix of knowledge, such as organizational development, leadership principles, and elements of behavioral or HR expertise, and aims to support organizational health as much as employee wellbeing.
Engagement and wellbeing officers might link up with counselors and therapists to provide a more meaningful level of employee welfare, particularly for any workers who might be suffering from mental illness. Nevertheless, practically, the role is in place to simply make workplaces happier.
3. Mental health advocate
A mental health advocate works in similar ways to a mentor. Operating as part of an organization or charity, or simply as a volunteer or a friend, an advocate helps those who are struggling with mental health issues or illness come to terms with their experience and work through their challenges.
Mental health advocates listen to people, help them understand their rights, provide information or contacts of people who can support them further, and accompany people in meetings or any appointments they must attend. Advocates are typically independent of health bodies, and will provide impartial advice, as opposed to opinions or subjective information.
4. Mental health charity worker/volunteer
Mental health charity workers will work for charities that support mental health issues. Their scope of work can be quite broad, ranging from fundraising or looking after charity shops, to more specialized roles like finance or human resources (HR). Some people with specific skillsets might identify closely with mental health support, seeking out their charities to apply their expertise and work with an organization aligned to their values.
Volunteers will typically work for these charities on their days off to support a cause they particularly identify with. If you don’t want to volunteer your time, charities hire workers in a range of fields, so it’s worth exploring.
5. Mental health coach
Next on the list of best mental health professions is a coach. Mental health coaches are not typically accredited or medically trained in mental health knowledge but do possess specialist skills and attributes needed to support people who might be suffering from mental illness. Mental health coaches focus on imparting behavior and advice which might support people with less severe mental illness. They will take on clients — individually or in groups — and coach them to cope with their illness.
Mental health coaches can be volunteers or can work in paid roles and will work alongside organizations that might need someone for ad-hoc support in mental health matters. For example, universities, corporations, or even as a first point of contact in health services.
6. Mental health nurse
Mental health nurses work in clinics, hospitals, and other healthcare settings to provide front-line medical support to people suffering from mental illness. The role is focused on ongoing care and management of mental illness, as well as the diagnosis and treatment of simple mental health conditions before a psychologist or other mental health doctor needs to get involved.
Mental health nurses can either start out in a general nursing role and then gravitate towards a mental health specialism or start out in the field from scratch.
7. Mental health paralegal
Mental health paralegals are the first step on a rapidly emerging hierarchy of mental health law roles. Mental health paralegals will support lawyers with in-depth legal advice pertaining to mental illness. This might include DEI or disability legislation, human rights, medical rights and records and other information that might arise from lawsuits involving the rights or needs of mentally ill people.
The role can progress into becoming a specialized mental health lawyer, but day-to-day duties are very similar to a regular paralegal, such as reading notes and preparing cases, typing documentation, and other administrative work.
8. Mental health officer
Mental health officers, or MHOs, have an extensive and accredited knowledge of mental health issues. Their role is to assess those who might be suffering from mental health disorders and advise others on what treatment or support is needed. As such, MHOs often work alongside people or organizations who might not possess specialist mental health knowledge but will need to lean on such expertise. Some examples could be prisons, public services, or legal professionals.
9. Mental health social worker
Mental health social workers aim to improve people’s lives through supporting them with day-to-day challenges they might experience because of their mental illness. The role of a mental health social worker is primarily to support people, rather than provide specialist medical care.
Another part of the role is to assess people from a behavioral point of view and report back to organizations regarding that person’s capability. In some cases, this can be very challenging. For example, if you are a social worker supporting a mother who suffers from a mental illness, your role will be equally focused on supporting her and her needs, as well as determining if she is capable of looking after her children.
10. Peer counselor
Peer counselors are typically a voluntary role and are quite unique in where they sit in the mental health occupation architecture. Peer counselors have suffered — or are suffering from — from some form of mental illness themselves. They support other people who are going through the same thing, offering first-hand relatable advice, empathy, and support to guide people in making sense of their illness. The role is a prime example of paying it forward and can be particularly rewarding if you’re a part of someone’s story of recovery.
11. Professional mental health counselor
Professional mental health counselors are trained professionals who can give reasonably expert support to people suffering from mental illness. Like substance abuse counselors, the role will work alongside other organizations that require mental health support and services. The role is typically more focused on the support of emotional issues and in some countries, the job title can mean the same as a therapist. Therapists, however, tend to have a longer-term relationship with their clients, and are more likely to take up private practice rather than work for an organization.
Sometimes confused with psychologists, psychiatrists are certified, accredited doctors who are experts in mental health; as such, this is a profession that can take many years of training to get into, as well as an advanced degree, such as a PhD. Psychiatrists can help both patients with ongoing mental health concerns, as well as more acute or sudden mental health emergencies. Psychiatrists perform many supportive roles, such as working alongside other medical specialists, prescribing drugs for treatment as well as assisting with general mental health advice.
Psychology is an accredited profession, but unlike psychiatrists, psychologists cannot prescribe medication and are not medical doctors. Instead, psychologists support their patients with discussion and “talk therapy” to support them.
Psychologists will also use evaluations and assessments to support their patients, with the outcome being the person feeling better and being properly equipped to deal with whatever it is they are going through. In short, psychologists provide coping mechanisms for mental health challenges, rather than medical treatment to do so.
Mental health therapists can perform a similar role to psychologists, but with a focus on longer-term coaching or regular appointments to help someone sound out their challenges and receive constant support. The role can operate as part of an organization or as private practice.
Therapists often specialize in a certain area of mental health. The role can therefore be very complex and take many years of specialist training. There is also a focus on soft skills, such as emotional intelligence, listening and communication skills. Like psychology and psychiatry, the role needs qualifications and accreditation before you start to practice.
15. Youth support case worker
Youth support case workers will work with younger people to identify and support them with their mental health needs. The role requires specialist knowledge and experience of mental health challenges but will typically not require formal accreditation. Case workers will work with charities or public bodies to provide community support to younger people, and will work alongside social workers, often providing a deeper level of knowledge specific to helping younger people overcome mental health issues.
If you are looking for a career in mental health, then as you can see, there are no shortage of options to choose from. You can choose to train and become certified in a professional career, such as psychology or therapy, or simply choose to invest your time in mental health coaching or volunteering.
Whatever you decide to do, all these mental health jobs have one thing in common; they are rewarding and are in high demand. Helping those who suffer from mental illness can make a real difference to people’s lives, at a time when more people than ever need this support.
Check out our interview with Bianca Riemer about mental health in the workplace:
Are you interested in any of these mental health careers? Which one do you think best suits you and why? Let us know in the comments section below!