Skip to main content

Professional pathways and jobs for mental health workers

6 May 2021

Mental health has become top-of-mind for many and there aren’t nearly enough skilled people to meet a steadily growing demand for practitioners and clinicians. Considering a career in mental health? Find out what it takes and how your existing experience might open doors for you in the sector.

Mental Health is a growing field both in Australia and around the world. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) estimates that almost half of all Australians will experience mental health-related issues in their lifetime and that one in five will experience mental health issues each year.

According to the latest National Health Survey:

  • One in five Australians (20.1%) had a mental or behavioural condition
  • 3.2 million Australians (13.1%) had an anxiety-related condition
  • One in ten people had depression or feelings of depression

The Australian Government has projected that an additional 15,000 Mental Health Professional Jobs will be needed over the next five years and has made it a priority to support all Australians through increased investment in the field.

What is a mental health professional?

Career options in mental health are diverse and rewarding, each of them vital in their own way to helping others navigate some of the most challenging times in their lives.

Throughout treatment a patient might encounter many different mental health professionals, fulfilling a variety of important roles; from the clinicians who provide the initial diagnosis, through to accredited nurses, counsellors, support workers, and social workers who support the patients and help them cope both through crisis and in managing their mental health in the medium to long-term.

Where can a career in mental health take you?

Mental health issues can affect anyone, and careers in mental health call for people with a diversity of backgrounds and experience, the most crucial factors being empathy, patience and a genuine desire to help others. With these core skills and values, the right training can take you a long way.

The current demand for trained professionals means that there are opportunities for work all over Australia. In particular in regional areas.

Jobs in mental health

If you're interested in pursuing a career in mental health, there are a variety of options. In Australia, mental health workers typically need to obtain formal education which, depending on the role, might be a bachelor's degree, postgraduate study or the completion of diploma or certificate.

Ever wondered what the difference is between a psychiatrist, psychologist, counsellor and mental health nurse? Though they're all highly qualified mental health workers, they support patients’ needs in very different ways, and their training and focus areas reflect that.

Explore some of the most in-demand mental health professions in Australia, their specialties, salaries and what it takes to get there.

An SCU Master of Mental Health student is wearing medical scrubs and looks at a clipboard with a colleague.

Mental Health Nurse

Mental Health Nurses can work in clinical settings (such as hospitals) or in care or rehabilitation in the community. They can provide a variety of assistance, including helping patients manage and understand their conditions, helping administer medicines that have been prescribed, and monitoring a patient’s progress.

How to become a mental health nurse

The most common pathway into the field of mental health nursing is to complete an undergraduate nursing degree and practice in a mental health setting. To become a specialist Mental Health Nurse then requires further study at graduate or master's level.

How much do mental health nurses earn?

An average salary for a psychiatric nurse is $70,000, however pay can vary widely (between $59k - $118k) based on institution and experience level. Certified mental health nurses tend to earn significantly more than a registered nurse.

Mental Health Social Worker

 Mental health social workers help empower those suffering with mental illness (as well as their families) to lead full and meaningful lives. Their duties vary enormously based on the setting where they work.

Clinical social workers can diagnose and deliver therapy to those suffering with mental illness and might also co-ordinate other services on their behalf. They are employed by governments, hospitals, mental health clinics, aged care and drug rehabilitation clinics.

How to become a mental health social worker

Working as a clinical social worker requires master's level study in social work (six years of study) as well as state certification.

How much do mental health social workers earn?

A typical salary for a mental health (or clinical) social worker in Australia is $82,000 though salaries range between $40k-$99k depending on experience.

Mental Health Support Worker

Mental health support workers work with patients and act as advocates on their behalf, helping them receive the care and assistance that they need. They can also help alleviate some of the duties and pressure faced by the families of patients experiencing mental health issues.

Support workers assist psychiatrists, doctors and nurses by monitoring patients, and following through on their treatment (ensuring patients follow their treatment plans and take necessary medications) or introducing patients to clinical care and other support services as required.

How to become a mental health support worker

A formal qualification (diploma course) and accreditation from a government body is needed to work as a mental health support worker in Australia.

How much do mental health support workers earn?

A typical salary for a mental health support worker in Australia is around $62,000 though salaries range between $49k-$79k depending on experience, skills and education level.

Youth Worker

Youth workers work directly with children, acting as role models and supporting minors suffering from mental health or behavioural disorders, or disadvantage by building therapeutic relationships with them.

They often work after the school day ends and on weekends. Experience working with youth and a passion for the job are vital for success in the job.

How to become a youth worker

A career in youth work typically requires a bachelor's degree (3-4 years) but can also be approached via vocational education and training.

How much do youth workers earn?

Depending on the stage of their career and the institution they work with, youth workers can earn between $45k - $73k. Taking on a more senior role as a case manager can lift salaries up to around $80k.

Disabilities Services Officer

Disability service officers work for a range of organisations that provide education, and facilitate access and support to people with physical, intellectual and emotional disabilities.

How to become a disabilities services officer

In order to work as a disability services officer, you'll need a formal qualification in either caring for the disabled, welfare, psychology or social work. Vocational Education and Training (VET) or a bachelor's degree from a university are both viable pathways.

How much do disabilities service officers earn?

The average salary for someone working as a disability services officer in Australia is $71,000. Though this can vary with experience level and institution.


Paramedicine is a rewarding and challenging career choice, best suited to those who are cool under pressure and have an eye for detail.  

In the field of mental health, paramedics are often first-responders for people suffering with a variety of mental-health conditions both immediate and long term and benefit from mental health training.

How to become a paramedic

To become a paramedic, you'll require a degree in paramedic science or paramedic practice from a university, which will usually take three to four years. As part of your studies aspiring paramedics undergo clinical placements. Intensive care paramedics often undertake advanced study with a Master of Specialist Paramedic Practice, which is an additional two years or study.

How much do paramedics earn?

The average salary for a paramedic in Australia is $70,000 but salaries range between $52 - $102k. Critical care paramedics can earn up to $125k depending on where you work.

An SCU Master of mental Health graduate stands in a hospital foyer wearing a lab coat and discussing files with a colleague.

How to become a qualified mental health professional in Australia

The pathway to becoming a mental health professional in Australia varies widely based on the type of role you want or existing training and career experience you may have. Particularly for trained nurses or social workers, a mid-career specialisation in the field of mental health can provide a rewarding career pivot or progression.

Undergraduate study

There are many paths towards a career in mental health, however most require an undergraduate degree or some form of vocational training. Undergraduate study for a career in mental health might include:

  • Bachelor of Medicine
  • Bachelor of Nursing
  • Bachelor of Psychology
  • Bachelor of Social Work
  • Bachelor of Paramedic Science
  • Bachelor of Aged Care
  • Diploma of Counselling

Postgraduate study

For those who already have a bachelor's degree and employment as a health or allied health professional, it’s possible to pursue further qualifications while continuing in your current role.

If you are interested in furthering your career in mental health, postgraduate education can be an important part of your journey. Postgraduate studies provide mental health professionals with the expertise and knowledge needed to enhance treatment and gain better patient results.

Depending on your background you could consider studying:

Southern Cross University’s online Master of Mental Health postgraduate course will enhance your understanding of mental health and psychology while building the skills needed to effectively respond to patients experiencing mild, moderate and severe mental health challenges. This program is designed to prepare graduates for work within a range of health settings and disciplines.

Alternatively, Registered Nurses can also study our Master of Mental Health Nursing. This degree is developed against the latest mental health industry standards as set by the Australian College of Mental Health Nursing (ACMHN). You can use your qualification upon completion as part of the pathway to becoming a credentialed mental health nurse.

No matter what your career goals are in the field of mental health, postgraduate study with SCU Online can empower you to take the next step. Contact our student enrolment team on 1300 863 819 to find out more.