This page contains affiliate links. This means if you a follow a link and make a purchase, at no additional cost to you, Humanitarian Careers will receive a commission. Thank you for supporting the site.
Mental health is fast becoming a larger part of the NGO sector. Organizations are realizing that many of the people they assist can have significant mental health needs. People affected by conflicts or disasters, or living in extreme poverty, often have extensive trauma, but lack access to mental health services.
Many people want to work in the NGO sector in mental health roles. There are a range of positions across NGOs that work directly on mental health programmes. Below are some of the top mental health jobs within the NGO sector…
A first type of mental health role within the NGO sector is known as an MHPSS Officer. Throughout the NGO sector, mental health work often comes under the title of mental health and psycho-social support (MHPSS). The role of the MHPSS Officer is oversee the day-to-day running of an NGOs mental health programmes.
The MHPSS Officer in an NGO will usually be line-managed either by the MHPSS Coordinator or the Health Programme Manager. They will line-manage the Case Workers and Community Health Mobilisers. MHPSS Officers are often based at field-level, dividing their time between being stationed in the mental health clinic or supporting programme management from the NGOs field office.
How to Apply
If you want to become an MHPSS Officer with an NGO you will need a formal qualification in psychology or mental health. As a mid-career position, you will also need around two years’ experience in a similar role. However, many NGOs in the field struggle to recruit MHPSS Officers, so in some contexts just having relevant formal qualifications are enough.
Mental Health Nurse
A second mental health job that is commonly recruited in the NGO sector is the role of Mental Health Nurse. Essentially, the position of a Mental Health Nurse in the NGO sector is similar to within any public health system. They provide a wide range of assistance to people suffering from mental health disorders. Often NGOs will support a team of Mental Health Nurses working within a clinic, either in a government facility or a health center within a refugee camp.
Some NGOs directly hire Mental Health Nurses as staff, whereby they report often to the MHPSS Officer. Other NGOs support Mental Health Nurses within a public health system, and provide financial assistance and training to ensure they can help people in need. This method aims to strengthen the public health systems mental health capacity.
How to Apply
In order to work as a Mental Health Nurse, you will need to have the formal qualifications needed to practice. This usually includes completing a nursing qualification with a specialism in mental health. Some experience working as Mental Health Nurse will also often be needed before joining an NGO.
A third mental health job in the NGO sector is the position of MHPSS Coordinator. This role is a senior position that is responsible for overseeing an NGOs mental health programming. The MHPSS Coordinator must also manage the project budget and feed into funding proposals and grant management.
The MHPSS Coordinator is often based at country office level, but will travel frequently to field bases. They will line-manage a team of MHPSS Officers, and report to either the Head of Programmes or the Country Director.
How to Apply
You will need several years’ experience working in mental health roles in the NGO sector in order to become an MHPSS Coordinator. Formal qualifications in psychology, or training as a Mental Health Nurse will also almost certainly be needed.
Another mental health job that NGOs frequently recruit is the role of Case Worker. The responsibilities of the Case Worker are to directly support people suffering from mental health issues. They take on a range of cases, provide follow-up, assistance and refer cases to other actors who can also provide support. NGO Case Workers almost always come from the community the NGO is working in.
Case Workers in the NGO sector usually report to the MHPSS Officer. Alongside providing mental health support to beneficiaries, Case Workers must also be active in the community and often provide awareness raising sessions on mental health.
How to Apply
There are not many set criteria to become a mental health case worker for an NGO. A background in psychology or training in Psychological First Aid is definitely beneficial, but in most humanitarian contexts people with these trainings are limited. A health background would almost always be sought by NGOs recruiting Mental Health Case Workers though.
NGO Mental Health Online Courses
If you are interested in working in a mental health role for an NGO, we highly recommend the online course Chronically Ill in an Emergency: Why Mental Health Matters offered by the University of Copenhagen and designed by the Danish Red Cross. It only takes around nine hours to complete and we think it provides one of the best introductions to NGO MHPSS programming.
Another online course we really recommend for anyone wanting to work for NGOs in an MHPSS role is the Psychological First Aid course offered by John Hopkins University. Psychological First Aid is the bases of most NGO mental health programming and this course provides a fantastic introduction to its basic concepts and methodologies.
Emory University in the US have an online course called Health in Complex Humanitarian Emergencies. This wide-ranging course provides a broad overview of the difficulties in providing both physical and mental health support in complex humanitarian crises. It is a must for anyone wanting to work for an NGO in a mental health role.
One position that often oversees mental health programmes in the NGO sector is the Medical Coordinator. The Med Co is the most senior technical position overseeing health programming on most NGO missions. When an NGO does not have a dedicated MHPSS Coordinator on a mission, then mental health programming comes under the Med Co.
Usually, the Med Co would line-manage a Deputy Medical Coordinator that has a specialism in mental health. This position would be the line-manager of the MHPSS Officers and have more day-to-day oversight of the mental health projects. The Med Co usually reports to the Heads of Programmes or the Country Director.
How to Apply
You will need significant experience in running NGO health programmes in order to become a Medical Coordinator. For Med Co positions that oversee mental health projects, you’ll also need some experience in the technical aspects of MHPSS programming as well. Budget management and grant management experience are also sought by NGOs recruiting Medical Coordinators.
Health Programme Manager
An often-recruited mental health job by NGOs is the Health Programme Manager. This position is similar to that of the Medical Coordinator, in that they oversee an NGOs health projects. However, the Health Programme Manager has less responsibility for the strategic overview of the project, or grant management, and focuses more on the day-to-day running of an NGOs health programme.
Similar to the Med Co, the Health Programme Manager will often cover both medical and mental health programming. They may also be responsible for GBV – gender-based violence, projects. As a result, they will line manage a team of MHPSS, as well as Health and GBV Officers.
How to Apply
To be successful with an application to become a Health Programme Manager for an NGO you will need some years’ experience working in the NGO sector, most likely at field level directly overseeing projects. A health background will also be needed.
Community Health Worker
A final NGO mental health job is that of Community Health Worker. NGOs employ Community Health Workers to operate directly within the community the NGO is working in. They help to identify cases, provide health promotion sessions, raise awareness of key health issues and liaise with the health programme teams within the NGO.
NGOs that run mental health programmes often recruit Community Health Workers to assist in their MHPSS projects. Mental health is often shunned in many communities where NGO’s work, and so mental health awareness and promoting mental health services is a key part of the job of Community Health Workers.
How to Apply
A background in health is often sought by NGOs recruiting Community Health Workers. However, being a member of the community the NGO serves, as well as having a strong understanding of the mental health needs of that community, is more important.
If you want to learn more about MHPSS in the NGO sector, explore our page on humanitarian mental health courses here. If you want to learn more about working for an NGO, see our page of the top NGO online courses here.