Working in mental health

A career in mental health is not just a job; your role will have a major impact on patients, their families, and entire communities.

Whether you choose a path in psychiatry, counselling, nursing, or explore the diverse range of therapies and support roles available, you will be part of a fast-developing and important field.

Every position within the mental health sector is pivotal, ensuring that patients receive the right treatment at the right time, and as close to their homes as possible.

What's covered?

We will provide you with the key information you need to prepare for applying for mental health roles in south east London.

You can either scroll through the entire page or jump to particular sections.

What jobs are available?

Find out more about the wide range of roles available in this diverse and important field.

What do different roles involve?

Take a deeper dive into what some roles involve day to day and where they take place.

How can I get
started?

Take some of the first steps to find and apply for your ideal mental heath role.


The Mental Health Skills framework

A comprehensive guide to understand the skills required to successfully apply and thrive in mental health roles. 

What jobs are available in mental health

The field of mental health care is as diverse as it is vital. It offers a range of roles, each playing a crucial part in supporting and empowering individuals with mental health challenges. From clinical positions like psychiatrists and nurses to creative and supportive roles like art therapists and peer support workers. Below are some examples of just a few of these roles.

Psychiatrist

Diagnosing, treating, and managing mental health conditions through medical assessments, medication, and various therapeutic techniques. 

Mental health
nurse

Providing nursing care to individuals with mental health conditions. 

Occupational
therapist

Helping individuals in improving their ability to perform daily activities, especially after mental health challenges.

Speech and Language Therapist
(SLT)

Assisting people with challenges resulting from conditions like autism or learning disabilities, to improve their communication.

Dietitian

Working with patients who have eating disorders, depression, and anxiety, focusing on how nutrition impacts and supports mental well-being.

Physiotherapist

Assist patients in managing physical symptoms associated with mental health conditions, such as chronic pain related to depression or anxiety.

Art
therapist

Using creative art processes to help individuals express themselves and manage mental health conditions.

Music
therapist

Facilitating therapeutic music sessions to improve mental health and emotional wellbeing. Using music as a tool for expression, relaxation, and communication.

Occupational therapy support worker

Aiding occupational therapists in providing care to those with mental health issues. Assisting with therapy sessions and daily activity planning.

Social worker
(Mental Health)

Supporting individuals with mental health challenges through advocacy, crisis support, and connecting them with community resources.

Peer support
worker

Using personal experiences with mental health to provide support and encouragement to others facing similar challenges. 

Recovery worker

Providing practical support to individuals recovering from mental health issues. Assisting with daily activities, goal setting, and accessing community resources.

What do different roles involve?

Let’s look at some roles in mental health in more detail. Read these short profiles to find out what a day in the life of these roles involves. We chose these four roles to give a flavour of the wide variety available.

Peer support worker

WHAT
Using personal experiences of mental health challenges to offer support, understanding, and guidance to others facing similar issues.

Peer support workers foster a sense of shared experience and empathy, providing emotional support, practical advice, and helping others navigate the mental health system.
WHO
Peer support workers are usually individuals who have successfully navigated their own mental health recovery and have received training to support others.

They possess strong empathy, communication skills, and a deep understanding of the challenges associated with mental health issues.
WHERE
Peer support workers can be found in various settings, including mental health clinics, hospitals, community centres, and sometimes in non-traditional settings like peer-run organisations or online support platforms.

Music therapist

WHAT
Music therapists use music as a tool to address emotional, cognitive, social, and physical needs of individuals.

They design and implement music-based therapy sessions tailored to the specific needs of their clients.

This can include creating, singing, moving to, and/or listening to music to help clients improve their health and wellbeing.
WHO
Music therapists are trained professionals, often with a background in music.

They possess a deep understanding of how music can be used therapeutically and are skilled in various musical techniques and in working with diverse client populations.
Where
Music therapists work in a variety of environments, including hospitals, mental health clinics, schools, rehabilitation centres, nursing homes, community centres, often as part of a multidisciplinary team.

Social worker (mental health)

WHAT
Mental health social workers assess and address the psychosocial needs of individuals and communities.

They provide counselling, develop treatment plans, and connect clients with resources and services.

They also advocate for clients’ needs and rights.
WHO
Mental Health Social Workers are licensed professionals with a degree in social work, often holding specialised training in mental health.

They have strong skills in assessment, intervention, advocacy, and are knowledgeable about mental health disorders and the social factors that affect mental wellbeing.
WHERE
Mental Health Social Workers are found in hospitals, mental health clinics, community health organisations, schools, and child welfare agencies.

They often collaborate with other healthcare professionals to provide comprehensive care.

Mental health nurse

WHAT
Mental health nurses specialise in caring for individuals with mental health disorders.

Their responsibilities include assessing mental health needs and developing and implementing care plans.

They also play a crucial role in educating patients and their families about mental health conditions, managing crisis situations, and advocating for the rights and needs of their patients.
WHO
Mental Health Nurses are registered nurses (RNs) with specialised training in psychiatric and mental health nursing.

They possess strong clinical skills in mental health assessment and treatment, are adept at managing challenging behaviours, and have the ability to build therapeutic relationships with patients.
WHERE
Mental health nurses work in a variety of settings, including psychiatric hospitals, mental health clinics, community health centres, general hospitals with psychiatric units, residential treatment centres, and sometimes in private practice.

They may work as part of a multidisciplinary team alongside psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and other health professionals.

It’s always helpful to hear from people doing the job already, and to find out what they enjoy about their role.

Watch this video to hear about some people’s experience of being a mental health nurse and why they find this work so rewarding.

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What pay and benefits can I expect?

A career in mental health care is not just rewarding in terms of personal fulfilment, it also comes with a range of benefits.
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Flexible hours

Many roles in mental health offer flexible working hours. This allows you to balance your personal life and work commitments effectively, whether it's part-time, full-time, or shift work, depending on the role and employer.

Diverse locations

Opportunities in mental health care are available in a variety of settings - from hospitals and clinics to community centres and schools. This diversity lets you find a work environment that best suits your professional preferences.

Competitive salary

The pay scale in mental health varies based on role, experience, and qualifications. However, it is generally competitive, with opportunities for progression and higher earning potential as you gain more experience and specialised skills.

Training and development 

The mental health sector places a strong emphasis on professional growth. You can expect comprehensive training upon entry, and continuous professional development opportunities throughout your career. This may include specialised certifications, workshops, and further education support.

How can I get started?

The good news is that you don’t need existing qualifications or experience to work in mental health care! It’s more important to demonstrate the right values and behaviours.

Embarking on a career in mental health is not just about qualifications or experience; it's about embracing the right approach and mindset.
01

Develop skills and understand values

To thrive in Mental Health roles, you need to embody certain skills and values that are central to this compassionate field. These include:

Having a person-centred approach:


  • Be empathetic, kind, caring and trustworthy.

  • Be knowledgeable about local services putting the patient/service user needs at the centre.

  • Recognise there may be barriers to accessing services and identify opportunities to overcome them.

  • Put co-production at the heart of care and support plans and build relationships.

  • Ensure you adopt a personalised approach to each patient/service user.

  • Be inclusive and respectful -do not judge or discriminate (look beyond the diagnosis).

  • Be courageous in your approach and empowered.


Being flexible, methodical and trustworthy

  • Be flexible in your approach to the person, the work agenda, your colleagues and partner organisations.

  • Be a navigator/enabler and bridge the gap for service users, family and carers accessing services.

  • Be well organised but work at the individual’s pace and be patient.

  • Be honest, open/transparent and supportive in your approach.

  • Act appropriately and understand your personal and professional boundaries.

02

Gain experience in mental
health 

Before applying for a job in Mental Health, gaining some practical experience can be invaluable. It not only gives you a better understanding of the role but also strengthens your job application.

Consider these options:

  • Shadowing professionals or getting work experience in mental health settings.

  • Volunteering with organisations that support mental health.

  • Participating in local groups that work with individuals dealing with mental health issues.

  • Helping in organising or supporting mental health awareness events.

  • Offering assistance in daily tasks to someone dealing with mental health challenges.

  • Using experience from sectors like hospitality or community work, which can provide transferable skills.

03

Gain qualifications for a career in mental health

While it's possible to enter the field of Mental Health without prior qualifications, certain certifications, including apprenticeships, can enhance your understanding and skills:

  • Certificates or Diplomas in Mental Health or related fields: these provide foundational knowledge and practical skills necessary for working in mental health settings.

  • Awards or courses specific to mental health care: These might include specialised training in areas like mental health first aid, crisis intervention, or counselling techniques.

  • Apprenticeships in mental health: These  offer a blend of on-the-job training and classroom learning, allowing you to gain practical experience while studying. They are ideal if you prefer a more hands-on approach to learning and can be a pathway to becoming a qualified mental health professional.

Using the Mental Health skills framework

We have worked collaboratively with employers and staff to create a comprehensive guide detailing the essential skills for working in mental health roles.

It offers a structured approach to understanding the skills required to successfully apply and thrive in mental health roles. The full framework, along with supporting resources, is available on the SEL ICS website (link coming soon).

Let’s show you an example of how Jordan used the framework to land his dream job in mental health.

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About Jordan

Jordan has a background in customer service, having worked in a busy call centre for the past four years.

He has excellent communication skills through his experience dealing with a diverse range of customers.

Jordan has always been passionate about helping others and has volunteered at a local community centre. Jordan has a personal interest in mental health due to a close family member's struggles with anxiety. 

Assessed his current skills and values

He reviewed the skills listed under each domain of the Mental Health Skills Framework.

For instance, in Domain 1, he looked at skills like communication, teamwork, and respect for diversity. 

Jordan realised he had strong communication skills from his role as a customer service representative, and he often volunteered at a local community centre where teamwork was essential.

Identified areas for improvement

From his self-assessment, he identified areas where he needed more experience or development. 

Based on this, Jordan decided to volunteer at a mental health charity on Sunday mornings.

This not only provided first hand experience in a relevant setting but also helps him understand the practical aspects of mental health support.

Applying for jobs

When applying for the mental health roles, Jordan used experiences and learning from the previous steps to demonstrate how he meet the competencies in the framework.

In his cover letter, Jordan mentioned how their experience in volunteering helped him understand and apply person-centred care principles.

In his CV, he listed the online courses and workshops he attended which were relevant to the skills required for the role.

Useful resources

There are plenty of resources available to help you identify which role is right for you, develop your skills, and provide more information about a career in mental health.

Find your health career

Take this quick quiz to find the NHS careers that would best suit you.

NHS jobs

Find current vacancies in mental health roles and apply for jobs.

Gov.uk jobs

This government site regularly updates its listings with various mental health job roles available across South East London.

Mental Health Apprenticeships

Skills for health  lists various apprenticeship opportunities in mental health at different levels. It's a great starting point if you're after practical, hands-on experience in the field.

Think Ahead

This is a two-year, fully funded programme for aspiring mental health social workers. It combines academic study with practical experience, preparing participants for a career in mental health social work.

Mind

A leading mental health charity in the UK, Mind offers educational resources, fundraising opportunities, and job listings in mental health

South London and Maudsley (SLAM)

As one of the UK's most comprehensive mental health service providers, SLAM offers a variety of job vacancies in the field.

Oxleas

Oxleas delivers an array of healthcare services in South East London and for individuals in prison.
 

Black
Thrive

Black Thrive Global tackles the disparities affecting the mental health and wellbeing of Black communities in Lambeth. 

Bridge
Support

Bridge specialises in supporting people towards independent living, offering support routes for individuals with enduring mental health conditions within the community. 

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