Mental Health Administration Careers

Clinicians and other professionals working in mental health facilities offer their patients the highest level of care in the most efficient and cost-effective manner thanks, in part, to the management and leadership that mental health administrators provide. Mental health administrators serve as leaders of mental health/behavioral health facilities, overseeing business operations and patient care. Effective management of inpatient and residential mental health treatment facilities helps ensure that people with mental illness receive exemplary care.

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Effective management of staff and other resources in the mental health setting has never been more important. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in four adults in the United States—nearly 62 million—experiences some form of mental illness during any given year. Another 14 million live with a serious mental illness, such as major depression, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder.

Careers in Mental Health Administration

Just a few of the job titles for administrators of mental health facilities include:

  • Behavioral health clinical director
  • Director of behavioral health
  • Program director
  • Clinical care manager
  • Executive director
  • Manager of community behavioral health services
  • Director of mental health

The job duties of mental health administrators vary depending on the mental health facility and the population they serve; however, all mental health leaders focus on mental health advocacy through mental health awareness, understanding, and action. Whether working with children, youth, adults, or seniors, administrators of mental health must successfully implement plans and policies set forth by the facility’s Board of Directors.

Job responsibilities include:

  • Setting annual organizational goals and objectives
  • Securing funding to ensure revenue meets annual budget needs
  • Providing overall management to the areas of staffing, funding, planning, facilities, program management, and evaluation
  • Developing and implementing new development strategies, programs, and marketing approaches
  • Working with the Board to develop and implement both short- and long-range planning strategies
  • Ensuring compliance with federal, state, and local regulations
  • Assisting in the development and implementation of community education programs addressing mental health issues
  • Overseeing the monitoring the proper professional certification, licensure, or credentialing of the mental health team

Mental health administrators oversee a multidisciplinary staff of mental health professionals and clinicians, which often include:

  • Psychiatrists
  • Psychiatric or mental health nurse practitioners
  • Clinical psychologists
  • Clinical social workers
  • Licensed professional counselors
  • Mental health counselors
  • Certified alcohol and drug abuse counselors
  • Nurse psychotherapists
  • Marital and family therapists
  • Peer specialists


Job Settings for Mental Health Administrators

Mental health administrators may provide management and leadership in a number of mental health settings, such as:

  • Psychiatric units within general hospitals
  • Private psychiatric hospitals
  • State psychiatric hospitals, providing both acute and long-term care
  • Intermediate units, providing partial hospitalization
  • Residential care—24-hour psychiatric care provided in a residential setting
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Mental health administrators may work in facilities that address any number of behavioral disorders or mental illnesses, such as:

  • Anxiety disorders
    • Generalized anxiety disorder
    • Panic disorder
    • Social anxiety disorder
    • Phobias
  • Mood disorders
    • Depression
    • Bipolar disorder
    • Cyclothymic disorder
  • Psychotic disorders
    • Schizophrenia
    • Schizophreniform disorder
  • Eating disorders
    • Anorexia nervosa
    • Bulimia nervosa
    • Binge eating disorder
  • Impulse control and addition disorders
    • Pyromania
    • Compulsive gambling
    • Alcohol and drug addiction
  • Personality disorders
    • Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder
    • Paranoid personality disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Stress response syndromes (adjustment disorders)
  • Dissociative disorders (dissociative identity disorder)
  • Factitious disorders
  • Sexual and gender disorders
    • Sexual dysfunction
    • Gender identity disorder
  • Somatic symptom disorders
  • Tic disorders (Tourette’s syndrome)


Degree Requirements for Jobs in Mental Health Administration

Similar to other health administration careers, today’s mental health administrators often possess master’s degrees in health administration or a similar field.

Bachelor’s degrees are the first step to any mental health administrator’s career. Individuals interested in mental health administration often choose bachelor’s degrees in social work, sociology, psychology, or business management, all of which serve as a strong foundation for a master’s degree in health administration.

Individuals who complete an undergraduate degree in psychology or social work may also choose to complete a master’s degree of the same discipline, with a specialization in mental health administration. Mental health directors and administrators are often licensed psychologists or social workers.

A master’s degree in health administration prepares students to apply principles of leadership in the development of strategic goals in any number of healthcare settings, including hospitals, nursing homes, physician offices, and mental health facilities, among others. The structure of these programs may vary based on the school in which they are located:

The core curriculum of health administration master’s degree programs provides in-depth study in:

  • Principles of health care administration
  • Financial and managerial accounting
  • Global and population health
  • Healthcare management information systems
  • Health economics
  • Health policy analysis
  • Healthcare law and ethics
  • Strategic planning and marketing in healthcare

Capstone projects, which round out most health administration master’s degree programs, allow students to integrate their acquired knowledge and skills into a student project focused on strategic and organizational issues unique to the healthcare environment.

Salary Expectations for Professionals in Mental Health Administration

As of May 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that professionals in mental health administration earned an average salary of $118,800. Entry-level administrators earned about $104,280, while salaries for senior-level administrators soared, reaching about $195,630.

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While the BLS does not provide industry-specific salary stats for professionals in mental health administration, it does highlight the average salaries for healthcare administrators in the following settings, all of which may employ mental health administrators:

  • General medical and surgical hospitals: $127,330
  • Nursing care facilities: $100,160
  • Outpatient care centers: $117,200
  • Specialty hospitals: $130,640
  • Home healthcare services: $100,880

May 2020 Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and job market trends for medical and health services managers represent national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Salary statistics representing entry-level/early career = 25th percentile; mid-level= 50th percentile; senior-level/highly experienced = 90th percentile. Data accessed August 2021.


Resources for Mental Health Administrators


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