The study of the mind is still very much in its infancy. Each day, people are learning more about how to diagnose, treat, and prevent the challenges that lead to mental health problems. If you work towards a mental health research job, you find that you are many times at the forefront of an increasingly important field. This can include children, men, and even pregnant women dealing with exhaustion and other issues.

As a mental health researcher, you will take on a unique role that requires you to look for solutions to problems through the administration of drugs, having interpersonal conversations, and using a variety of therapeutic techniques. 

This all won’t necessarily take place in a laboratory setting. Your day-to-day can include classroom time, reading journals, engaging in public activism, and working directly with individuals to learn about their needs and offering guidance.

As someone looking for a mental health research job, your area of focus may align with one of the following career paths outlined below. But be aware that not every position is itself necessarily a research position; however, the knowledge gained from the work that you do will give you insight into the mind enough that you may go on to write papers, publish articles, teach, and much more.

Counseling

Counselors work with patients of all ages who are currently dealing with substance abuse problems, depression, grief, anxiety, and others. As a counselor, you may perform welfare checks, help people to identify and work through their problems, or even establish treatment plans.

Psychology

Psychologists often work as either a clinical psychologist or a neuropsychologist.

Clinical psychologists diagnose and treat people with mental or behavioral disorders. In this position, you will employ a variety of treatment tools to help people to understand, manage, and treat disorders.

Neuropsychologists are more focused on research and work to determine what is happening to the brain during neurological events with the hope of finding new ways to treat individuals. You may or may not work directly with patients in this line of work.

Psychiatry

Psychiatrists and psychiatric technicians work together to help diagnose and treat emotional and behavioral problems. 

Psychiatrists can prescribe drugs, which differs from counselors. To prescribe drugs, you will need additional schooling. 

Psychiatric technicians work under the direction of psychiatrists to monitor patients and to assist and a treatment plan. 

Social Work

As a social worker, your focus may be either a mental health social worker or a social and community service manager.

A mental health social worker helps individuals with mental health problems to function in their daily lives. They don’t diagnose or administer treatment. Instead, they provide information to individuals with the goal of helping them to manage their lives better.

A community service manager may run an organization that seeks to provide services to the public. This work may be more administrative in nature, requiring business skills, the ability to organize events, and exceptional writing and speaking skills.

Nursing

Nurses who deal specifically with mental health problems may have additional forms of training that allow them to assess psychiatric patients and their medical needs, including diagnosis and treatment. Nurses may also specialize in substance abuse patients; this form of nursing may also require them to administer emotional support in addition to the medical needs of patients.

General Researcher

A general researcher is a broad category that may encompass any of the above fields, or be entirely independent. This field may also require specific qualifications, such as a medical degree, social work degree, psychology degree, or others depending on the area of focus. Employment may vary from working for local government agencies, universities, or private corporations, to even working for yourself if you apply and win grant money.

Skills You Will Need

When you are in a research job or any position dealing with people that may have diagnosed or undiagnosed conditions, you will need to apply a broad set of skills to perform your work at a high level. Here are a few of the skills you should bring into an interview and continue working on through your career.

  • Observation – Most research work begins with gathering data. You will need to do a lot of reading, attend conventions, consult with colleagues, interview subjects, and perform tests. The better you are at identifying important information and asking questions, the better the outcome of your work will be.
  • Critical Thinking – With all of your data, it is important that you can quickly spot trends and patterns. These may be surface level or require you to think about problems from different perspectives and without bias.
  • Interpersonal Skills – With any mental health field, you will be in contact with a range of personalities, behaviors, and states of wellbeing. The ability to be diplomatic, remain calm, and make people feel safe around you will give you credibility and make interacting with people that much easier.
  • Adaptability – Mental health work can be unstable, meaning if you are looking for a day-to-day job behind a desk, you may want to look elsewhere. Additionally, it is possible that you will come into contact with people of all backgrounds and mental health states. Some people may even be violent or have fallen into desperate times. For some people in the field of mental health, this can be emotionally or physically challenging, so be prepared for anything and don’t let it wear you down.  

A mental health research job is not for everyone. Some people report burning out quickly if they are unable to find ways to decompress at the end of a long day. Some of the work can be disheartening, too, leading to emotional or physical problems, despite training and knowing the consequences of letting these things stick in your mind.

For others, they see the value of their work and the good it does, even when things don’t go as planned.
If you are looking to contribute to the field of mental health through one of the above career paths, you will have many opportunities to continue learning and growing as a person, gathering data, submitting case studies, and overall helping to advance the human understanding of mental health.