Psychiatric Aides and Mental Health Assistants
Psychiatric aides or mental health assistants are nursing assistants who specialize in mental health and work with the mentally impaired or emotionally disturbed patients. This can mean working with adults in mental health wards or rehabilitation facilities for substance or alcohol abuse, or working with children with conditions such as autism or mental retardation.
Duties, Activities, and Scope of Practice
Psychiatric aides perform nursing aide duties such as bathing, grooming, and dressing patients, but they also participate with patients in socialization activities and interactions that provide both educational as well as recreational activities. They play cards or games, watch TV, and participate in group activities.
Psychiatric aides work closely with their patients and must be alert to potential violent outbursts and understand how to react to protect not only themselves but the patient and others as well. The patients are often uncooperative, disoriented, and even irritable or angry. Sometimes these patients are combative. This is especially true of children with emotional disturbances.
Psychiatric aides accompany patients on field trips and escort them to and from treatments and exams. The aides also observe the patients for behavioral outbursts or physical or emotional changes that are important for the staff of nurses, psychiatrists, and other mental health care team members to be aware of.
Education and Training
Psychiatric aides are first trained as nursing aides. Some states require additional training specifically in dealing with mental illness and behavioral issues. This is usually obtained on the job and is specific to the age group and/or types of mental or behavioral illnesses with which they work. Some vocational schools or adult education programs may offer formal psychiatric aide training. Mental health hospitals may also offer formal training.
These health care workers are not licensed. Upon completion of their nursing-aide training they can sit for the certification exam that tests both written and practical areas.
Work Settings and Salaries
Psychiatric aides work in mental health settings, which can include hospitals, skilled-care facilities, rehab facilities for substance abuse, residential care facilities, and even prisons or other detention facilities such as Youth Authority. These are usually operated on twenty-four-hour schedules and require coverage for all shifts, including weekends and holidays.
The median hourly salary in 2004 as reported by the U.S. Department of Labor was $11.19. Salaries ranged from $7.63 to $16.74 per hour.
Career Potential and Additional Information
This profession is expected to grow at least as fast as the average for all occupations. As the population ages, there will also be an increased need for mental health services for the elderly.
It is an entry-level position and one that is both physically and emotionally demanding. The need for replacements will continue to present job opportunities. For some, this is a stepping stone to other more advanced opportunities in the field of mental health, such as nursing, psychology, and psychiatry.
There is no specific organization for psychiatric aides and mental health assistants. For more information about psychiatric aide positions, contact the American Psychiatric Association. Their Web site is