Written by Joanna Hughes

“Mental illness is a global problem: We need a global response,” declares Health Poverty Action. And with good reason: mental health conditions affect one out of four people at some point in their lives, and a significant proportion of them receive no treatment. Not only that, but these issues disproportionately impact certain groups, such as women, people living in poverty, and refugees and asylum seekers. Given the scale of the problem, studying and working in mental health is a great study and career choice. Here’s a closer look at the field of mental health, why it matters, and what study and career options are out there waiting to be discovered. 

 

What is mental health?  

“Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood,” MentalHealth.gov explains

Many factors can contribute to mental health issues, including genes, brain chemistry, and other biological factors such as trauma, abuse and other life experiences, and family history.

Why study mental health?

There’s good news on the mental health front. For starters, people with mental health can get better. In fact, many completely recover. Furthermore, stigmas and stereotypes about mental health are being eradicated, due in no small part to the courage of people like Prince Harry, who has publicly opened up about his own mental health struggles

But there’s still work to be done. The following are just a few of the things meriting attention in the area of mental health at the moment:

  • The number of students with mental health issues is on the rise. 

College students are experiencing rising incidences of mental health problems. Mental health students have the opportunity to examine this phenomenon in order to address it. Additionally, experts are calling on universities to step up their efforts in this regard. Psychology Today declares, “College counseling centers can play a major role in  combating stigma, making their services accessible and visible, providing culturally-competent care, and increasing mental health supports for students in a variety of settings.” Another industry where more mental health support is needed is healthcare

  • Technology is leading to evolution within the field. 

Mental health software and devices represent exciting new opportunities in the form of everything from tele-health and e-prescribing to electronic health records and clinical decision support, with applications everywhere from clinics to hospitals to schools. In the remote areas of the US, for example, students with anxiety and depression are gaining access to treatment through video conferencing technology. Behavioral care clinic manager Nicole Califf said of the program, “We found [proximity] was a barrier to care for patients who were seeking services but didn’t have a means of transportation to receive the service. [...] It also wasted patient time to try to have the counselor commute to the more rural schools.” 

  • Jobs for mental health professionals will continue to grow.

As the mental illness epidemic escalates, demand for mental health professionals is also on the rise. For starters, awareness is growing about the degree to which proactive and preventative strategies can be used in early diagnosis and treatment. To that end, 12 mental health bodies in the UK joined forces in an open letter to The Independent imploring the government to invest more in mental health services. Meanwhile, a recent Harvard Business Review highlighted the tremendous need for more companies to acknowledge mental health in the workplace. From the need for more mental health professionals in American schools to the need for more mental health beds in Australia, the takeaway is: mental health services and professionals will be increasingly sought-after. This is obviously great news for people wishing to study and work in the field.

Working in mental health

A breadth and depth of professionals lend their knowledge, skills, experience and talent to the effort, including psychiatrists, psychologists, psychiatric nurses, social workers, therapists, mental health counselors, psychotherapists, public health professionals, addiction counselors and many others. 

In addition to working on the frontlines of the fight for mental health, other careers can be equally impactful, such as mental health promotion. David Malcolm, a master’s student in mental health and wellbeing, told The Guardian of his study specialization: “Mental health promotion -- how local government bodies and primary care trusts can promote mental health; brief interventions in mental health such as cognitive behavioural therapy and solution focus; and mental health in primary care – how services are provided and what can be done to improve the provision at the point of contact, for example GP services.”

Malcolm also revealed why he’d decided to pursue a degree. “I chose this course mainly because of its emphasis on evidence-based practice, which chimes with recent government warnings about how the number of people with mental health problems is going to increase. To have a practical qualification will be really handy. And to know what things are supposed to happen on paper,” he added. 

One last thing to keep in mind is that while healthcare is an amazing career option for many, it’s not right for all. MentalHealth.net offers up some considerations to keep in mind before pursuing a career in this field, including that it can be emotionally taxing. That being said, it can also be uniquely fulfilling. Plus, mental health practitioners can take steps to safeguard their mental health through self-care measures like relaxing, exercising, spending time in nature, and leaning on colleagues, friends, partners, and family. 

If you are thinking of pursuing a career in mental health, studies in this field can help prepare you to land a job where you can help make the world a healthier and happier place...

ArticleEducation
Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.
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