The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) states the majority of mental health professionals are social workers. They assess the physical, environmental, emotional, and psychological factors affecting mental health and provide holistic treatment in an array of settings.  Mental health social workers address a variety of issues and challenges, spanning several areas in the social work field.  For example, they may work in clinical therapy settings, employee assistance programs, trauma response venues, or substance abuse treatment.

Mental health social workers handle several steps needed to support individuals dealing with mental illness. They assess patients’ situations and needs, and then work with patients to develop plans of care.  Care plans may include a recommendation for therapy, as well as the arrangement of services or resources (when needed) such as job placement, welfare benefits, or legal representation.  With approximately one in five adults in the U.S. experiencing mental illness in a given year, it is clear that experts in the mental health field are crucial to supporting the well-being of the individuals in their communities.

Typical Roles and Responsibilities of Social Workers in Mental Health

Roles in the mental health field can be found in many settings. Mental health social workers may work in:

  • Medical, psychiatric, or clinical mental health hospitals and clinics
  • Substance abuse rehabilitation centers
  • Correctional facilities
  • Community or government agencies

While specific duties will vary by setting, many mental health experts will handle tasks such as:

  • Assessment of clients’ environmental situations and physical / psychological needs
  • Development of treatment plans
  • Referrals to other mental health professionals, if needed
  • Facilitation of support services

Average Salary

Mental health social workers earn an average annual wage of around $47,000. Psychiatric hospitals provide the greatest number of jobs in the field, and salaries in those facilities average more than $53,000 per year.

Education & Experience Requirements

There are a variety of educational pathways leading to a career in mental health, with roles in psychiatry, social work, and counseling calling for different degrees and licenses. More than half of all mental health specialists pursue a degree in social work.  While some roles require a BSW (bachelor’s in social work) degree, many call for an MSW (master’s in social work) with clinical licensure.  MSW programs accredited by the Counsel on Social Work Education (CSWE) provide a strong foundation in the field of mental health, preparing graduates for a robust career, helping individuals with mental illness to lead healthier lives.

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