How Does a Person Become a Mental Health Support Worker?

How Does a Person Become a Mental Health Support Worker

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 20% of adults will seek out mental health support in their lifetime. As the stigma around seeking treatment for mental health issues continues to shift, the need for qualified professionals who can provide much needed care, support and assistance to those struggling with depression, anxiety, drug addiction and other mental health issues is growing.

While social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists and doctors play an essential role in a patient’s care plan, mental health support workers are also desperately needed. But how exactly do you become a mental health support worker? And what exactly does a mental health support worker do? How can you apply for these roles? This article will explain all you need to know. Read on to find out more.

What Does A Mental Health Support Worker Do?

A mental health support worker directly supports people experiencing a mental illness – either an acute episode, such as a period of psychosis or chronic mental health conditions, such as severe anxiety, depression or major mental health disorders, such as bipolar, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder or schizoaffective disorder.

In the role, you’ll use your skills and training to support people in distress, help clients set goals and work towards their goals while gently encouraging them and providing one on one support. Some mental health support workers also facilitate group programs, such as specialised groups for people who hear voices or have a specific diagnosis.

In addition, a mental health support worker may also refer clients to other services where appropriate, such as housing, alcohol and drug treatment, family support, family violence or primary health services. 

Becoming A Qualified Support Worker

In most instances, you’ll need to study at a tertiary level to become a mental health worker. This may mean studying a graduate diploma of psychology online, obtaining an undergraduate bachelor’s degree or even a postgraduate degree in some cases. While studying, you’ll learn all the theories underpinning mental health practice and other valuable skills and experiences that will see you develop your professional mental health expertise.

It’s worth mentioning that a mental health support worker is an entry-level profession, so you should likely be able to find a role with either a certificate or a diploma. If you want to study further in the field, you could work towards jobs like a counsellor, psychologist, case manager or even psychiatrist – although the latter is a long path with many years of study before you can practise.

Undertake a Student Placement

One way to gain valuable experience when working towards becoming a mental health support worker is to undertake a student placement. This is an unpaid role embedded within a mental health support service. You can do a student placement at locations such as inpatient psychiatric units, outpatient community mental health settings, community health centres, private mental health rehabilitation units and outreach services.

Placements are a great way to gain valuable workplace experience, learn how a mental health service operates and get some firsthand practice at working directly with clients of a mental health service. Some services will allow student placements to carry their own caseload eventually after having an extensive period of supervised support work.

Consider Volunteering

Volunteering as a mental health support worker is another excellent way to gain some valuable workplace experience. Many services maintain a volunteer workforce and have the systems and processes set up to support their volunteer staff. You’ll be able to build up your skills, confidence, and competence and develop therapeutic relationships with clients in a volunteer capacity.

This will look great on your CV, and you can draw on your volunteer experience when applying for paid mental health support worker roles. Sometimes, a workplace will create employment pathways for their volunteers and transition them into paid roles with benefits.

Apply for Mental Health Support Worker Roles

The next step in your journey to becoming a mental health support worker is actively looking for work and applying for jobs. You can browse all the usual online job boards and check if there is a specialised online job board for non-profit or healthcare roles. Furthermore, you may want to create a LinkedIn profile to highlight your study and volunteer experience, and you can also look for jobs there.

Part of applying for mental health support worker roles entails preparing cover letters and your CV or resume. You should tailor each application to the specific role, addressing the selection criteria in the position descriptions.

If you get knocked back from some roles (which is bound to happen, not everyone gets every job they apply for), you can ask the hiring manager for feedback. Take this feedback on board and continue improving your job applications; eventually, you’ll be offered an interview.

Interviews for mental health support worker roles will be a chance for you to demonstrate your knowledge, skills and experience to the interview panel. They will usually ask questions about your capacity to support people with mental health issues. In addition to questions like these, they will often ask you about your people skills, conflict resolution skills and how you’ve handled a tricky work situation. 

Consider Peer Support Worker Roles

If you have a lived experience of mental health issues and accessing mental health services, you could also apply for peer support worker roles. A peer support worker is a professional mental health worker who utilises their lived experience to support clients.

For instance, a peer support worker may disclose their story to build rapport and a working relationship with a client. Some services employ teams of peer workers and even have career pathways with senior and team leader peer roles so you can progress your career within an organisation. Peer support work can significantly impact clients, as they may come to trust you quickly due to your disclosure of your own experiences.

A Support Worker Summary

This helpful article has shared how a person can become a mental health support worker. We’ve shared what this role does, how they support people living with a mental illness, the study required for the role, and some career pathways into such work.

Mental Health Topics (A-Z)

  • How Does a Person Become a Mental Health Support Worker?