A mental health assistant is a health-care worker who assists supervisory health-care personnel in providing health care to patients with mental impairments or emotional problems. She plays a crucial role in the implementation of treatment plans since she has more direct contact with patients than any other health-care staff. Mental health assistants are also referred to as psychiatric aides, psychiatric technicians or psychiatric nursing assistants.
Mental health assistants are responsible for helping patients perform the most basic tasks such as bathing, grooming, dressing up, eating and walking. They also socialise with them, performing activities such as watching television, conducting exercises or going on field trips. Working under nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers or therapists, it is also the duty of mental health assistants to record the progress--or lack thereof--of patients to help their supervisors make important decisions in the implementation of their treatment plans.
Work Environment and Conditions
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, half of the country's mental health assistants worked in hospitals specialising in mental health and substance abuse in 2009. Other major employers include nursing clinics, outpatient care centres and residential care facilities. Although the usual work week is 40 hours for mental health assistants, the around-the-clock attention mentally impaired patients need sometimes calls for some assistants to work evening, weekend and holiday shifts.
Education and Training
Some mental health assistants enter the field with only a high school diploma. However, employers show preference for those who have received some formal training--specifically, earning a certificate in nurse assisting from a community college, technical school or hospital program.
As of June 2010, mental health assistants make a median annual salary of around £18,850, according to MySalary.com. The bottom 10 per cent make around £14,300 and the top 10 per cent make around £24,700.
The BLS does not see much growth in the mental health assisting field in the near future--about 6 per cent between 2008 and 2018. Overall, a mental health assistant is an entry-level job, and it is best seen as a stepping stone toward more substantial roles in health care, particularly as a nurse.