By Yolanda Smith, BPharm
Mental health nursing, also known as psychiatric nursing, is a specialized field of nursing practice that involves the care of individuals with a mental health disorder to help them recover and improve their quality of life.
Mental health nurses have advanced knowledge of the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of psychiatric disorders that helps them provide specialized care. They typically work alongside other health professionals in a medical team with the aim of providing the optimal clinical outcomes for the patient.
Mental illness can affect individuals of any age, ethnic origin, or socioeconomic status. For this reason, a mental health nurse may need to work with many different individuals from various backgrounds.
Male Patient Being Reassured By Nurse In Hospital Room - Image Copyright: Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock
A mental health nurse is responsible for the
- Assessment and evaluation of the patient’s mental health
- Development of treatment care plan
- Consultation with other health professionals about treatment plan
- Provision of care and psychotherapy treatment
- Maintenance of medical records
- Support and education to the patients and their family
This primary role of a mental health nurse is to provide care to patients with a psychiatric disorder, mental health issue, or behavioral problems. Many of the tasks performed by a mental health nurse are similar to that of a psychiatrist and include diagnosis, psychotherapy, and prescription of medications.
Some mental health nurses also choose to specialize further, such as in the management of individuals with a psychiatric disorder of a certain age or association. These may include pediatrics, adolescents, geriatrics, substance abuse, and eating disorders.
Training and Education
There are several training education pathways that can lead to a career mental health nurse practitioner (APRN-PMH). As it is a specialization of nursing, an individual must first complete a Bachelor degree in Nursing and pass the board examination in order to become a Registered Nurse (RN).
Following graduation and registration, they may then go on to complete a master’s degree or doctorate in advanced practice nursing, with a specialization in psychiatry and mental health. This degree includes extensive clinical experience as a core part of the curriculum and, upon graduation, the nurse may also choose to complete a one-year residency to develop their skills further.
In the United States, mental health nurses are certified as a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP-BC), which is conducted through the America Nurses Credentialing Center.
An individual well suited to a career as a mental health nurse may have the following qualities:
- Interest in mental illness and behavioral disorders
- Compassionate, empathetic, and non-judgmental
- Exemplary communication skills
- Emotionally stable with strong self-awareness
- Problem-solving and critical thinking skills
- Attentive to detail
Mental health nurses may work in a range of environments, depending on the position and the role that they play. This includes hospitals, psychiatric practices, substance abuse programs, in-home care services, and community agencies.
The work schedule of the nurse will depend greatly on the setting in which they work. For those working in hospitals or practices with round-the-clock care, it may include shifts at nighttime, on weekends, and holidays. However, those in community agencies or private practices tend to work regular daytime hours.
Reviewed by Susha Cheriyedath, MSc
Last Updated: Aug 3, 2016