With over 40 per cent of Australians experiencing a mental disorder at some point in their lives, having trained mental health professionals to provide care and support is critical.
According to the National Skills Commission skills priority list, almost a third of health professional occupations were found to be in shortage. Australia needs more qualified professionals to deliver these services, with these health professional occupations predicted to experience strong future growth. Thankfully, there are many mental health courses and study pathways for those interested in advancing their careers.
Before considering advancing your career in the field of mental health, it’s worth weighing the study options and professional pathways to see what’s possible. This article explores Australia’s various mental health courses and why online study is a great option for busy professionals and those needing a flexible study option in order to upskill.
Working in mental health
Many professions, such as counsellors and psychologists, deliver mental health services, each unique in its role, responsibilities and setting. Nurses or social workers, for example, usually have additional tertiary training in the mental health field as well as relevant work experience that allows them to specialise in the area of mental health.
Those providing mental health services, support and care for others usually find the profession equally rewarding and demanding.
Valerie Ling is a clinical psychologist and director of the Centre for Effective Living. For her, working within the mental health profession is a privileged space.
“You feel that you’re making a difference, not just to one person but how it affects their relationships with others.”
Ling enforces, however, the importance of good self-care and having ways to clock off from your job so that taking care of the mental wellbeing of others doesn’t become overwhelming.
Mental health careers
There are many career pathways to follow in the mental health sector. Depending on your goals and current qualifications, these are some popular pathways:
- Mental health nurse. A mental health nurse can work in many settings, including hospitals, nursing homes and the community. Currently, 24,567 mental health nurses are working in Australia and a skills shortage demonstrates that we need more.
- Psychologist. These experts study the psychology of human beings and provide support and services to patients in private and public settings. There are 31,618 psychologists in Australia. In fact, there are nine different types of psychologists, including clinical; community; counselling; educational and developmental; forensic; health; organisational; and sport and exercise psychology; and clinical neuropsychology.
- Psychiatrist. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor specialising in diagnosing and treating mental health conditions. We have 3,769 accredited in Australia and this has grown since 2016.
- Mental health occupational therapist. These occupational therapists help individuals with mental health challenges develop or regain the skills necessary to participate in everyday activities and improve their overall wellbeing. Currently, there are 2,555 mental health occupational therapists working in Australia.
With a specialist career goal in mind, mental health studies are the next step on your professional journey.
What is it like to study mental health?
A qualification in mental health provides invaluable knowledge and skills, but it also helps students gain a deeper understanding of mental disorders and mental wellbeing. In addition, a qualification opens doors professionally, presenting students with new job opportunities, increases in salary and the chance to practise a specialisation. Ling agrees.
“The advantage of postgraduate study is that you get a deeper and detailed knowledge base,” she explains. “This is useful for helping specific populations or more complex presentations in your mental health work.”
A masters degree in mental health, like the online Master of Mental Health offered by Victoria University, is a popular postgraduate program for allied health and social care professionals. This advanced level of study usually commences after completing an undergraduate degree. Those pursuing a career as a mental health professional will find this level of study helpful in gaining an advanced qualification.
Requirements to study mental health
Before enrolling in a mental health course, it’s essential to learn what’s involved.
First, some programs and qualifications have prerequisites to study mental health. Depending on the mental health course you choose, these may include certificates and diplomas or an undergraduate degree. Others require a set number of practical hours or on-the-job experience in a mental health setting to enrol.
Secondly, consider your professional goals. Take some time to research what’s involved in becoming qualified or endorsed, and ensure your study plans meet these requirements.
Finally, take some time to assess how you can balance your professional and personal commitments with your online studies. Creating a study schedule can be a helpful way to ensure you are dedicating time to your studies and making progress towards your career goals.
With online education becoming the norm in many industries, it’s also a popular option for those studying mental health.
Why study mental health online?
Online study has been a game changer for many people, and it can benefit those looking to expand their scope into mental health. For health professionals, the following benefits are possible when studying mental health online.
- Opportunities to specialise. Advancing to a specialisation, like mental health, is easier with an accredited qualification. A postgraduate course in mental health is essential for many roles in this sector and is made possible with quality online providers.
- Greater flexibility. Studying online makes it easier to manage your time. For example, nurses who are already working can fit their studies into their schedules, learning where, how and when it suits them. For Ling, having this flexibility was invaluable. “I think it's imperative that when you’re forming to work in mental health, you must ensure that you make enough space to think and reflect on what you’re learning,” she says.
- Up-to-date learning. Online learning platforms can offer more up-to-date coursework than traditional in-classroom teaching. As a result, you’ll learn skills and knowledge you can apply in real-time to your career today and use in the future.
- Relevance in your profession. Especially for nurses who haven’t studied for some time, ongoing education gives them a chance to refresh their knowledge and become lifelong learners. “Postgraduate studies provide you with the skills to keep up to date and make sense of emerging research and trends,” says Ling.
After affirming mental health studies as the next step in your professional journey, choosing the right course is next.
Courses such as the University of Technology Sydney’s Graduate Certificate in Mental Health, Southern Cross University’s Graduate Diploma in Mental Health, or Victoria University Master of Mental Health, all offer online qualifications suited to your professional pathway and desired career outcomes.
In addition, the Graduate Certificate or Master of Child and Adolescent Mental Health offered by Victoria University Online, gives professionals the skills to work with children and young adults. Registered nurses may also be eligible to apply for Southern Cross University’s Graduate Certificate of Mental Health Nursing if they meet the entry criteria.
Connect to a career in mental health
GlobalHealth Education connects students with some of Australia’s leading university providers, offering over 60 postgraduate health courses and making it easy to find a match. Explore our list of mental health courses and speak to a Student Enrolment Advisor to see what’s possible today.