Employment Outlook & Career Guidance for Mental Health Social Workers

shutterstock_343833839According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately one in four adults, or nearly 62 million people in the US alone, experience mental illness every year.  Nearly 20 percent of all youth, ages 13-18 experience severe mental issues.  Yet, nearly 60 percent of these adults, and one-half of the youth will not receive mental health services.  Because the incidence of mental health illness is so widespread, the need for trained mental health social workers has never been greater.

Mental Health Social Workers Career Options

With demand for skilled mental health social workers growing, there are very good prospects for new graduates to find employment in the field.  Many mental health social workers work directly with patients, or provide triage intervention and refer clients to other professionals, some are advocates and work alongside other healthcare professionals, and many work within a community, including supporting service users’ families, with the courts, and with law enforcement.

Mental Health Social Workers spend much of their time treating and supporting clients who have mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, and addiction issues.  Treatment options vary considerably, but many include family therapy, pharmacological, psychosocial therapy, education group therapy, or a combination of any number of treatments.  Typical duties may include:

  • Interviewing clients
  • Performing mental health and physical evaluations
  • Collaborating with professionals in related fields
  • Supervising other social workers
  • Performing administrative duties
  • Arranging and modifying treatment programs

Mental Health social workers also support family and communities by focusing on social factors, such as housing, employment and helping individuals to build or re-build relationships with family and friends.  Enabling and building resilience in these

Individuals help them not only get well, but stay well. Learn more about how to become a mental health social worker.

Typical Employment Settings for a Mental Health Social Worker

People using mental health services can be any age, and at varying states of recovery or need.  Most social workers do not work the typical 9-5. The hours can be varied and may include weekends and holidays if emergencies arise.  They may even be times when it will be necessary to be on-call to respond in emergency situations.

Just a few of the areas a mental health social worker may find employment, include:

  • Hospitals
  • Rehabilitation clinics
  • Family service agencies
  • Non-profit groups
  • Prisons
  • Government agencies
  • Schools
  • Private Practice
  • Mental Health clinics
  • Addiction recovery agencies
  • Human Resource departments
  • Community clinics
  • Military bases

Ways a Mental Health Social Worker Can Increase Desirability as a Job Candidate and Increase His or Her Salary

Great mental health social workers are great leaders.  They must make good judgment calls regarding people and their rights, they must assert their views and knowledge, and understand and inspire.  Many mental health social workers manage teams, groups of teams, whole services and organizations, and take on increasing responsibility for strategy and service delivery.

The first step to becoming a mental health social worker is to earn a bachelor’s degree in social work, or a closely-related field.  In order to obtain a license in social work, graduates must earn a master’s of social work (MSW) from a college or university approved by the Council on Social Work Education.  Earning a MSW usually takes two-years of schooling, and two years of field practicum (working directly with clients experiencing mental health issues) or internship.  There are also sub-concentrations with the mental health social worker filed that will allow students to tailor their studies to a specific area of interest.

As with all areas of social work, experience, earning high grades, and gaining as much knowledge in the field as possible will ensure candidates are at the top of the list for employment in this competitive field. 

Attributes Employers Often Look For When Hiring a Mental Health Social Worker

Social workers with engage with people from all walks of life, at all ages, and in all stages of recovery. As such, there are a number of vital attributes a mental health social worker must embody to be successful.  Social work, in general, can be a very demanding and stressful job, so gaining a complete knowledge of the field, and understanding what it takes to thrive as a mental health social worker is imperative.  That said, the rewards witnessed every day are countless.

A few of the attributes employers look for in a mental health social worker, include:

  • Leadership abilities
  • Listening and communication skills
  • Empathy
  • Patience
  • Persistence
  • Flexibility
  • Resilience
  • Perception
  • Organization
  • Dependability

Networking Opportunities and Organizations for Mental Health Social Workers

There are many networking opportunities for mental health social workers.  From associations and organizations, such as NAMI, to counseling associations and social media, aspiring mental health social workers can find a wealth of resource online and on-campus.   Just a few to consider, include:

Volunteering opportunities can also enhance mental health social worker’s skills, while expanding the social work network.  Local service agencies, food banks, children and family agencies, such as the American Red Cross, Big Brothers/Sisters, and the Boys and Girls Clubs are all invaluable resources.

Take a look at the Corporation for National and Community Service, the Idealist, and Volunteer Match.