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Who makes more: BH professionals or fast food workers?

April 12, 2011
by News release
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Washington, D.C. — A licensed social worker with a master’s degree earns less than a manager of a fast food restaurant, according to the 2011 Behavioral Health Salary Survey just released by the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare (National Council).
The survey finds that the nation’s mental health and addictions treatment professionals are paid far less than their counterparts in other healthcare sectors.

“Just as people with mental illnesses and substance-use disorders are routinely stigmatized, it appears those working in the behavioral health sector are also treated differently—even within the healthcare community,” says Linda Rosenberg, National Council president and CEO.

The survey of more than 850 mental health and addictions treatment organizations finds:

  • A direct care worker in a 24-hour residential treatment center earns a lower median salary ($23,000 a year) than an assistant manager at Burger King ($25,589).
  • The annual salary range for a chief medical officer at a behavioral health organization is $101,000–$150,000, compared to the national average of $183,947–$292,395 for the same position in any other type of healthcare organization.
  • A social worker with a master’s degree in a mental health-addictions treatment organization earns less ($45,344) than a social worker in a general healthcare agency ($50,470).
  • A registered nurse working in a behavioral health organization earns $52,987 compared to the national average for nurses of $66,530.

“The survey underscores the need to end the second class status of employees working in mental health and addictions organizations,” says Rosenberg, who cites the recent economic crisis and state budget cuts for contributing to the problem.

“Until we achieve equity with the rest of the public healthcare safety net, we will continue to struggle to recruit and retain the number and caliber of professionals needed for more efficient and effective mental health and addictions services.”

The survey, conducted in partnership with the National Association of Addiction Treatment Professionals, includes salary data for executives, administrators, clinicians, direct care and support staff in public and private behavioral healthcare organizations. Completed in November 2010, survey findings are based on salaries reported by 860 respondents from 46 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.

Annual salary data are based on the time period between July 1, 2009 and June 30, 2010. The full report is available for purchase at


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