Start a Mental Health Social Work Career

Created by careersinpsychology

stressed sad young woman with eyes closedWhat Is a Mental Health Social Worker?

Living with a mental illness is difficult, to say the least. For many individuals, mental disorders make it difficult to function normally in everyday life. In severe cases, nearly all aspects of people’s lives are affected by the disability, including their careers, families, and social circles.

No one is safe from the looming shadow of mental illness either. These types of problems can affect anyone, including the young and old, men and women, and the rich and poor. In fact, the Surgeon General has estimated that nearly a quarter of Americans are living with a diagnosable mental illness.

For some individuals suffering from mental disorders, living a “normal” life may seem very difficult, or even impossible. Recovery from mental illness is typically the main goal of mental health social work. Professionals in this field try to ensure that their clients’ needs are met while they are coping with their mental illnesses.

A mental health social worker provides support and resources to these individuals, so they can start working on recovering from their mental disorders. Generally, a mental health social worker will provide clients with everything from counseling services to referrals to services that may benefit them.

Recovery from a mental illness is often a long and bumpy road, with several obstacles. Care and support from a mental health social worker, however, can help make this road smoother, resulting in less frustration and problems on the road to recovery.

Why Do We Need Mental Health Social Workers?

The number of individuals diagnosed with mental illnesses each year has been on the rise since the 1970’s. Although the reason for this is ultimately unclear, many experts agree that we have something of an epidemic regarding mental illnesses.

Because mental illness diagnoses are on the rise, the need for mental health professionals, is also on the rise. Mental health professionals, such as mental health social workers, help ensure that mentally ill individuals get the care that they need, as well as help make sure their needs are met. These actions are extremely important to the recovery process and essential for self-sufficiency of these individuals.

Featured Social Work Degree w/ Mental Health


What Do Mental Health Social Workers Do?

Mental health social workers typically work very closely with a number of individuals. First of all, they typically work in a team with other mental health professionals, such as psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors, and therapists. Most importantly, though, mental health social workers also work closely with mentally ill individuals and their loved ones.

The first step that a mental health social worker will usually take with a new client is the assessment. This usually involves interviewing and talking with the client, and possibly his family members, friends, and doctors as well. An assessment not only helps the social worker determine what mental illnesses a client has, but also his strengths and weaknesses as well. Once a mental health social worker has completed the assessment, he can then help put together a care plan for his client. This care plan typically involves figuring out the best methods of recovery for the client.

If necessary, most mental health social workers are trained to counsel their clients on some minor issues. They might also need to educate their clients on mental health in general, and the importance of treating these issues. However, for more serious mental health issues, a mental health social worker will usually refer clients to more qualified mental health professionals, such as psychologists or therapists. A mental health social worker might also help clients find treatment facilities and in-patient mental health care centers, if necessary.

A mental health social worker might also need to help his clients attend to their daily needs. For example, we all know that money is a veritable necessity in today’s modern world. Since some mentally ill individuals may find it difficult to find or keep a job, a mental health social worker may help his clients find employment. If employment is not an options, however, a mental health social worker may help his clients find and apply for certain types of assistance, such as welfare benefits or disability benefits.

In some cases, a mental health social worker might also be called upon to act as a legal representative for his clients as well. This is usually necessary when a mentally ill individual is being discriminated.

Monitoring his clients’ progress is also an important duty of a mental health social worker. During periodic evaluations, the social worker will try to determine whether or not a client’s treatment plan is working or not. If current treatments aren’t working, the social worker may need to help clients find different doctors or facilities that can better cater to his client’s needs.

Where Do Mental Health Social Workers Find Employment?

Individuals interested in pursuing mental social work careers can typically find employment in medical hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, mental health facilities, community health centers, and rehabilitation centers. Facilities such as schools, detention centers, and government agencies might also hire mental health social workers as well.

What Are the Education Requirements to Become a Mental Health Social Worker?

To start, many individuals interested in mental health social work careers will typically earn bachelor’s degrees in social work. Because a good understanding of mental illnesses and treatments is necessary for this career, you should concentrate on taking courses in psychology, mental illnesses, and counseling.

Social Work Licenses
Education Requirements Education Length Available Programs
LBSW (License Bachelor's Social Work) Bachelor's  4 Years Online or Campus
LMSW (Licensed Master's Social Worker) Master's  6 Years Online or Campus
LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) Master's +3200 Clinical Hours 7-8 Years Online or Campus

Although you can get licensed and obtained entry-level positions with a bachelor’s degree in social work, the majority of individuals employed as mental health social workers have typically earned master’s degrees in social work. Roughly 3,000 hours of supervised work experience is also necessary to become a licensed social worker, but this might vary slightly from state to state.

What Is the Salary of a Mental Health Social Worker?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lumps its social workers into four categories for the sake of simplicity. One of those categories is substance abuse and mental health social workers. The two groups of social workers are lumped together for salary. According to the BLS, as of May of 2022, mental health social workers earn a median annual salary of $51,240. The lowest 10 percent of the profession made an average salary of $34,630 and the top 10 percent of the profession made around $97,660.

2022 US Bureau of Labor Statistics job market trends and salary figures for mental health social workers are based on national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed June 2023.