In recent years, the issue of mental health has been thrust into the forefront, as the World Health Organization cites the rising number of mental health conditions throughout the globe. According to the agency, common mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety cost the global economy as much as $1 trillion each year. To combat this increase, organizations are putting their resources behind hiring a new generation of professionals, including mental health program managers.  

In this article, we will examine the role of a mental health program manager, the skills required to enter the field, and how to position yourself for a career as a mental health program manager.

What Is Mental Health?

Mental health is comprised of one’s emotional, social, and psychological wellbeing. For many people, mental health is influenced by the challenges and stresses of life, decision-making abilities, and relationships to other people. Mental health can be negatively influenced by factors such as trauma, genetics and family history, and the experiences that have impacted our lives, such as a divorce or death of a loved one.

Mental health services are offered in a number of settings, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), including doctor’s offices, counseling offices, outpatient centers, hospitals, and residential facilities.

What Is a Mental Health Program Manager?

According to O*Net, mental health program managers are responsible for planning, directing, or coordinating medical and health services in hospitals, clinics, managed care organizations, and public health agencies, among others. The role can also fall under the category of medical and health services managers, health information manager, or medical records manager, O*Net reports.

What Does a Mental Health Program Manager Do?

As the professional tasked with overseeing programs that can involve multiple patients from diverse backgrounds, mental health program managers must be able to collaborate with others within their organizations – from counselors to social workers to psychologists – while ensuring all services and programs are implemented effectively.

O*Net has comprised a list of occupation-specific tasks that a mental health program manager would typically perform. Among the most critical are:

  • Personnel supervision: Mental health program managers are responsible for directing, supervising, and evaluating the performance of personnel in medical, nursing, technical, and administrative roles.
  • Record management: Medical information is now primarily stored on computer servers, as opposed to file cabinets, and mental health program managers must develop and maintain efficient computerized record management systems for personnel data and activities in order to ensure accurate reporting.
  • Program administration: Mental health program managers must plan, implement, and administer comprehensive healthcare programs, managing personnel, training, and coordination of medical and nursing staff.
  • Fiscal operations: While a finance education is not essential to the role, mental health program managers must have some knowledge or experience in order to conduct fiscal operations, including budgeting, financial reporting, and coordination of expenditures to ensure financial stability.
  • Industry knowledge: The healthcare industry is always changing, and mental health program managers must stay informed on advances in medicine, technology, regulations, and financing options to optimize their services.
  • Work schedule management: If your role involves supervising others, you’ll need to know how to establish effective work schedules and assignments based on workload, space, and equipment availability.
  • Resource optimization: Making the best of your resources, especially when limited, is key to your success. Mental health program managers must be able to assess staffing needs and coordinate recruitment, hiring, and training activities for their programs to work.

What Skills Are Required to Be a Mental Health Program Manager?

Mental health program managers must bring a balance of technology skills and traditional soft skills to their roles. According to O*Net, technology skills needed to succeed are based around a number of categories, including:

  • Data analysis and visualization: Proficiency in analytical and scientific software such as IBM SPSS Statistics, SAS, and Tableau for interpreting health data in essential.
  • Database management: Skills in utilizing database management systems, such as Microsoft SQL Server and Apache Hadoop will ensure effective data organization and retrieval.
  • Communication tools: Familiarity with communication server software, including IBM Notes, and email software such as Microsoft Outlook, will ensure efficient workplace communication.
  • Software integration: Seamless system management requires knowledge of enterprise application integration software such as Microsoft SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS).
  • Office suite and productivity tools: Effective mental health program managers must be proficient in office suite software, including Microsoft Office, for document management, presentations, and spreadsheets.

The essential soft skills needed to be an effective mental health program manager include:

  • Critical thinking: You must be able to think logically and apply reasoning to assess alternative solutions and make informed decisions.
  • Effective communication: Whether communicating in person or electronically, you must be able to convey information clearly in your speaking and writing.
  • Active listening: Paying full attention to others, understanding their points, and demonstrating empathy without interruptions.
  • Problem solving: Identifying and addressing complex problems through thorough analysis and solution implementation.
  • Personnel management: Motivating, developing, and directing individuals effectively, ensuring the right people are assigned to the appropriate tasks.

Why is the Role of a Mental Health Program Manager Important?

Statistics from the World Health Organization point to the need for mental health program managers, and a closer look at mental health in the workplace shows that it has become a top priority, especially for young workers. A recent study of 18 to 29-year-olds conducted by Indeed in partnership with the Born This Way Foundation found that:

  1. Mental health is a top workplace priority. As many as 67 percent of adults surveyed said mental health is the foremost priority. Mental health ranks higher than financial security, personal relationships, work-life balance, physical health, and job or career.
  2. Mental health impacts performance and loyalty. The study shows that when young adults feel their employers prioritize mental health, it positively influences their performance and loyalty at work.
  3. Mental health matters to job seekers. Knowing a company’s stance and commitment to positive mental health can be a critical factor for job seekers, the study found.

How Do I Become a Mental Health Program Manager?

Like all careers, the path to becoming a mental health program manager begins with your education. O*Net research finds that educational requirements vary, with 46 percent of employers requiring a bachelor’s degree; 21 percent require a master’s degree; and 11 percent require an associate degree.

O*Net is a valuable online resource for researching job salaries. You can find that information here. For more information about careers in mental health services, visit the BLS website here.

Summary: What Is a Mental Health Program Manager?

The global increase in mental health conditions has prompted a heightened focus on mental wellbeing. As a result, organizations are turning to mental health program managers to plan, direct, and coordinate mental health services. The role demands a balance of technology skills, including data analysis and visualization, database management, communication tools, software integration, and office suite proficiency, alongside crucial soft skills like critical thinking, effective communication, active listening, problem-solving, and personnel management. With mental health a priority, those entering the field will need to address the mental health needs of new generations of workers, as younger professionals cite mental health among their top priorities. 

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