Career Watch: Public Health Careers in Mental Health
The field of mental health is burgeoning, especially now that the Affordable Care Act has expanded access to services for millions of Americans. While many mental health positions require specialized training above and beyond a public health degree, public health professionals can work to research and understand mental health conditions, pair those needing help with treatment options, evaluate programs, and decrease the stigma traditionally associated with seeking mental health support.
Public health positions in mental health exist in organizations as diverse as nonprofits, research institutions, hospitals, outpatient clinics, and private practice. Some jobs focus more on the macro scale of mental health and involve policy work and community program planning and implementation. Other jobs, including positions in clinical practice that would require a secondary degree, use primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention and promotion approaches to working directly with patients. All jobs ultimately contribute to the main aim of promoting health and preventing disease.
Public health professionals can work in the field of mental health as researchers, program and intervention planners, directors, and evaluators, and in outreach and marketing capacities. Additionally, grant writers are always needed to seek out research and program funding sources, as are health educators who understand chronic disease and physical health issues through the lens of mental health. With further mental health training, you can serve as a counselor, therapist, or case manager.
For careers involving both public and mental health, having the right mindset—being able to view the cross-linkages between physical and mental health and how they influence overall health—is the most important skill. This integrated understanding is in sharp contrast to the more conventional practice of viewing physical and mental health as two separate disciplines. For public health careers in mental health, it’s also a plus to have refined interpersonal skills, as many mental health positions involve public engagement as well as research and/or practical experience working with specific populations of interest.
“If you’re thinking about integrating your public health knowledge into a mental health career, it’s essential that you understand the interconnected relationship between physical and mental health. To get the dual skill set to really put you ahead of the game, seek out as many classes and opportunities as you can to work in the field of mental health on various levels—interpersonal, community, policy, research, etc. If you’re interested in working directly with patients, consider pursuing a master of social work or PhD in clinical psychology.”
—Monica Schmicker, MPH/MSW '13, Infant Mental Health Therapist, Hegira Programs, Westland, Michigan
SPH student Nora White interviewed Monica Schmicker for this article.