Mental health work is a demanding but much-needed profession: it allows workers to have the chance to make a huge, positive difference to patients’ lives. Want to work in mental health? We look at:

  • the responsibilities of a mental health worker
  • mental health worker salaries
  • mental health worker career progression

As part of a £1.3bn investment, the government is looking to add another 21,000 positions in mental health by 2020 to help drive the sector forward and provide training for new and existing staff – this is a great time to join.

With around 25% of the UK population experiencing some form of mental health problem each year, it’s a complex and common issue that requires a diverse skill set. There are many different roles within the profession, from working with institutionalised individuals towards improving their quality of life to providing support in the community to help people with common difficulties to navigate day-to-day life. It’s a career in which there are often opportunities to move sideways, so people that are just starting out can take time to find out where their talents lie before having to commit to a particular direction.

What a mental health worker does.

Although mental health workers have varied roles, some activities are common to all of them:

  • Face to face work - communicating directly with patients to assess their needs, explain the options available to them and engage in direct therapeutic work, such as teaching cognitive behavioural techniques to people with depressive illnesses.
  • Empowerment - improving the information available to patients and making sure they can access services, this is extremely important when assisting patients in recovery.
  • Advocacy - ensuring that patients’ rights are respected and that their concerns are addressed as effectively as possible. Helping patients to access other services, such as support for physical health problems.
  • Resource provision - ensuring that local GPs, community organisations and others in a position to help have access to information about mental health problems and support available to those affected by them.

In many roles, mental health workers are expected to set their own schedules and do extensive reporting and follow-up work, so they need to be well-organised and meticulous about dealing with paperwork.

Mental health worker salaries.

The average annual salary for a mental health worker in the UK is £17,600, with a range of £12,700 to £36,000.  Most jobs in this sector involve working for around 37.5 hours per week, but there is often part-time work available.  Shift work and overtime are common.  Rates of pay are often higher in big cities, especially London, and in coastal towns where there are a lot of older people who are more likely to require mental health services.

Usually, mental health workers are based in hospitals or within the community. Working in a hospital environment means that you can expect to see a high volume of patients as opposed to working in a community or GP setting where the number of patients will be smaller, but treatment will be much more focused. 

How to boost your salary.

Other than age and experience, the biggest factor influencing rates of pay in the profession is education.  Because there are many unpredictable issues within the field and it is common for patients to have more than one kind of problem, the wide-ranging experience is particularly welcome.  This means that opportunities to undergo further training should not be missed.  Training makes it easier to move into supervisory and, later, management roles.  Mental health workers can also improve their chances of promotion by gaining tangential skills such as record keeping.

Progression opportunities.

For individuals working for a single employer, such as a private company, or an NHS trust, pay at each career stage will remain linked to the pay agreement reached the hiring stage.  If further education and experience can be gained either through training or through the length of time spent on the job, moving to a new organisation can increase a candidate’s chances of attaining better pay at the next level.