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How to become a mental health practitioner in Australia

If you’re someone who’s always been driven to find new ways to support those who experience mental health issues, there has never been a more critical time to take the first steps to pursue a career that is both rewarding and impactful.

In the peak years of the pandemic – and since – the demand for mental health support services has drastically increased, creating a shortfall in qualified practitioners in this area. A qualification in applied mental health will open up many careers in mental health support and wellbeing, setting you up to work in a broad range of healthcare settings.  

Pursuing a rewarding career in mental health

Working in a human-centred career can be highly rewarding. Connecting with and supporting people to cope with stress and live more empowered lives can make a significant difference to individuals and communities. 

When we have ‘good’ or positive mental health, we have wellness rather than illness. When our mental health is unwell or not flourishing, it can impact many areas of life – social, emotional, physical and cognitive. Finding support during those times and moving mental health back along the spectrum to ‘wellness’ can help people lead happy, full lives in our communities.

As a mental health practitioner, you’ll take steps to foster others’ self-confidence, listen to and identify client needs, connect people with appropriate community or social services and provide comfort, reassurance and encouragement.

Is there a demand for mental health practitioners in Australia?

According to the National Skills Commission, the need for qualified and skilled workers in mental health support will grow by over 23 per cent by 2026. Such a steep incline of growth is unsurprising, given how heavily the global pandemic has impacted our lives. Emerging data is just now revealing how severe those impacts were on our mental health.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reported that between 16 March 2020 and 1 May 2022, Australians accessed over 29 million Medicare-related mental health services. From 2020–2021, 11.2 per cent of the population received a subsidised mental health-specific service, up from 6.9 per cent in 2010–2011.

Undertaking a qualification in the mental health field gets you started as an industry-ready practitioner, ready to work in roles that support wellbeing and mental health while addressing some of the job demand that will steadily increase over the coming years.

What does a mental health support worker do?

Mental health challenges can affect anyone in any setting: single people, young people, through the workplace or at home. Skilled practitioners in wellbeing and mental health – including mental health support workers, mental health policy/project officers, wellbeing/health and safety officers – provide expert care for anyone needing support in clinical and non-clinical settings. 

As a mental health practitioner, you’ll help people facing a range of challenges in various contexts. People experiencing mental health issues could be dealing with anxiety, depression, eating disorders, personality disorders, addiction, or bipolar disorder.

These issues could be mild and need short-term intervention and support, or they could be more severe and require long-term planning and support. Mental health practitioners play a key role in supporting families, children and youth, older adults, those living with disabilities and indigenous communities. 

By undertaking a degree in applied mental health, you’ll learn how to navigate various practice frameworks and systems of support that you’ll use every day as you meet and listen to people in our community that need help. 

If you want to specialise in a particular area of wellbeing and mental health support, you can develop deeper skills and expertise to help those experiencing family violence or addiction, learn more about suicide prevention, or become a practitioner for workplace mental health support.  

How to become a mental health practitioner Australia

What’s the difference between a mental health practitioner and a psychologist?

Psychologists work directly with people to focus on their behaviour and how they think and feel. They provide treatment and counselling that can help alleviate distress and mental health issues. To practice as a psychologist, you must undertake extensive study in a university psychology degree – around six years for undergraduate and postgraduate study. You also need to complete supervised experience to meet the Australian Psychological Accreditation Council (APAC) requirements. 

Mental health practitioners don’t require accreditation or need to complete a specific degree. There are a range of courses you can undertake to get started working in a role related to mental health or wellbeing. Since you aren’t limited to a particular industry or role, the areas you can work in as a mental health practitioner are quite diverse.    

Where would I work as a mental health practitioner?

Working as a mental health practitioner, you may find yourself in a clinical setting dealing directly with patients or clients (hospital, health care or outpatient facility) or in non-clinical settings, working in administration, policy or on projects relating to mental health and wellbeing.

Mental health practitioners are highly valued across many industries, from education and business to government and community services. The roles you may find across organisations include mental health specialist, mental health policy adviser, youth worker, public health manager, clinical coordinator, peer worker or project coordinator.

If you have extended your qualifications with a master’s-level program, you could very well find yourself within leadership or management roles.

Do I need qualifications to become a mental health practitioner in Australia?

Establishing a career in mental health support work does require a qualification. Practitioners in this area come from many different backgrounds and lived experiences. You may already have professional experience in a related field, like nursing, human resource management, youth work or counselling, or you may want a change from an unrelated career. 

An entry-level qualification, such as a graduate certificate, will give you the foundation skills and knowledge to work across various areas in mental health support. A more advanced qualification, like a master’s degree, will allow you to work in more complex settings, particularly mental health support work areas.   

How do I start my career in mental health support work?

If you’re looking to become a mental health practitioner and make a difference in our community today, a qualification is the first step towards a rewarding new career. Our Graduate Certificate of Applied Mental Health provides the ideal foundation to get you started in the field of mental health practice. After completing the Graduate Certificate, you can continue to the Master of Applied Mental Health, completing core and application studies to deepen your expertise and knowledge. 

Learn more about how to launch your career in mental health support work with Monash Online by calling a course consultant today on 1300 272 509 or arranging an online booking.

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