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How to become a mental health worker in Australia: careers in health

How to become a mental health worker in Australia: careers in health
Working with individuals to improve their quality of health by resolving psychological issues, mental health workers deliver counselling, refer patients to social services programs or develop mental health interventions. They see clients with a range of problems such as anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. Generally, mental health workers are nurses with a recognised specialist mental health expertise or are qualified social workers. Mental health workers in Australia need either a bachelor’s degree in nursing or social work and work experience and additional study that has focused on mental health.

Being a mental health worker: daily duties

The primary focus of mental health workers is on supporting their clients in addressing mental health issues. Daily tasks can include assessment of client needs, delivery of counselling (to individuals or groups), liaison with other community groups and contributing to developing new services. Good record keeping of client contact is necessary, and often mental health workers will have a role to play in community education programs.


  • Assessing clients and monitoring progress
  • Delivery of counselling and group programs
  • Liaising with other community and social services
  • Developing mental health programs
  • Maintaining client records

Being a mental health worker: skills for success

A comprehensive understanding of mental health issues, treatment options and best practice is important in order to be successful as a mental health worker. People skills, such as the ability to relate to people from a variety of backgrounds, patience and tact are also essential. Mental health workers need to have strong problem solving skills and sound judgment, and be able to make sound decisions under pressure. They should also have a good understanding of the roles and functions of the wider health and social services sector.
  • Understanding of mental health issues and treatments
  • Excellent people skills
  • Problem solving skills
  • Able to work well under pressure
  • Good judgement

Specialised roles within mental health

Mental health workers are already specialists in their field, whether they have come to it via nursing or social work. There are still further areas of specialisation they can pursue to progress their careers, building on the skill base they have developed throughout their careers. They may become accredited mental health social workers, move in to management roles or specialise in education, for example.
  • Accredited Mental Health Social Workers
    Recognised by the Australian Association of Social Workers as having specialist knowledge and expertise in mental health, these workers who generally work in private practice, can provide specific services through government programs such as Medicare.
  • Health Sector Manager
    Because of the extensive understanding they gain of the health and social services sectors, mental health workers can often make ideal candidates for healthcare managers. These roles require an understanding of healthcare issues and administrative skills like budgeting and managing of contracts, development of policies and recruitment and training.
  • Public Health Worker
    Mental health workers who enjoy community education and interaction can be well-suited to roles within public health campaigns associated with mental health and wellbeing. Tasks might include public presentations, program and policy development, building business cases and delivering training to other social services and health professionals.

Educational pathways for mental health workers

In general, mental health workers must hold a bachelor’s degree in social work or have a recognised qualification in nursing.
  • Start your career
    A certificate or diploma level qualification in mental health, counselling or community services is a useful way to start your career as a support worker
  • Strengthen your skills
    Nurses or social workers can build their skills in a number of undergraduate study programs.
  • Build your resume
    Find post-graduate study options to help with your career progression ambitions.
  • Industry requirements
    Social workers should consider registering with the Australian Association of Social Workers, while nurses in Australia must be registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia.
  • Finding Work
    Put your training to good use and get the best professional head start in your health career. Emphasise your personal strengths and achievements in your resume and target your cover letter to the job description listed.
  • Employment Prospects
    There is demand for mental health workers all over Australia, with the salaries on offer being competitive.

Resources for Mental health workers

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