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What is the Role of a Mental Health Nurse?


Recent estimates from the National Institute of Mental Health indicate that over 57.8 million people in the US suffer from a mental illness. Untreated mental health disorders can lead to problems such as substance abuse, disability, unemployment, homelessness, suicide, and poor quality of life. Psychiatric nurses form a crucial part of the country’s healthcare system, alleviating suffering for thousands of patients living with mental health disorders. Although their role can be both physically and mentally exhausting, helping to improve patients’ lives can be rewarding. This blog discusses the critical roles that mental health nurses play in the care and treatment of those with mental health conditions.

What is mental health nursing?

Mental health nursing, or psychiatric nursing is a specialized area of nursing practice focused on caring for those with mental health conditions and helping them recover and improve their quality of life. Mental health nurses possess advanced knowledge about assessing, diagnosing, and treating several mental disorders. These professionals work collaboratively with other healthcare providers to provide positive clinical outcomes for patients.

Duties and responsibilities of mental health nurses

Mental health nurses can work in various settings, including hospital wards, clinics, elderly homes, outpatient departments, residential units, and community drop-in centers. Their duties and responsibilities include:

Developing care plans: Mental health nurses work closely with their patients’ psychiatrists and physicians to develop medication plans or administer mental health evaluations, psychotherapy, and counseling. The nurse assists patients with daily activities, including the management of medication and treatment plans. They also monitor patient progress while offering much-needed emotional and clinical support.

Administering medications: Mental health nurses administer patients’ medications and treatments, and monitor results.

Listening to patients: One of the crucial roles of a psychiatric nurse is to listen to patients and assess them to diagnose their disorders. Compared to treating other physical illnesses, psychiatric diagnosis relies heavily on the patient’s information. The nurse may also speak with people close to patients, including family members, to correctly assess the patient’s mental health needs.

Managing records: Nurses also prepare and maintain patients’ records. They produce care plans and risk assessments needed to improve patients’ conditions.

Providing education: Mental health nurses educate patients, families, and communities to help them better understand mental health conditions. Such initiatives help break the stigma associated with mental health care and treatment.

Conducting therapy sessions: Psychiatric nurses often conduct one-on-one counseling sessions with patients to better understand their needs and equip them with essential coping mechanisms. They can also help organize group therapy sessions, including social and artistic events to promote a patient’s mental recovery.

Benefits of pursuing mental health nursing

The benefits of pursuing a career in mental health nursing include:

  • Excellent pay: The average annual salary of mental health nurses is $106,812. There are also opportunities for specialization, which offer greater earning potential.
  • Job security: The country currently has a massive shortage of mental health nurses. With so many medical facilities and organizations looking to hire mental health nurses, professionals in this field enjoy high job security.
  • Career progression: One has a variety of career opportunities as a mental health nurse. One can choose to be a specialist nurse working with children or young adults or work in specific treatment areas such as helping patients deal with childhood abuse or substance abuse.

What qualifications does one need to become a mental health nurse?

Several training education pathways available to become a licensed mental health nurse practitioner. The steps required to become a licensed mental health nurse are explored below:

Step 1: Earn a nursing degree

An aspiring mental health nurse should first complete a bachelor’s or associate’s degree in nursing and pass the board examination to become a Registered Nurse (RN).

Step 2: Gain work experience

After having obtained an undergraduate degree and licensing, it’s important to gain work experience. This gives aspiring nurses opportunities to apply their classroom knowledge in a clinical setting.

Step 3 Earn an advanced degree

Gaining further qualifications with an online clinical mental health counseling programs is a great way for aspiring nurses to progress in their careers.  With an MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling offered by the American International College, you can vastly improve your knowledge and skills, which can further your career while benefitting your patients.

Step 4 Obtain certifications

The last step involves obtaining PMHNP certification. One must pass the ANCC Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner board certification examination to obtain this certification. The certification provides the individual with the Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner-Board Certified (PMHNP-BC) credential valid for five years before being renewed.

What skills are needed in mental health nursing?

Mental health nursing is a demanding career with many different roles. The specific demands placed on the psychiatric nurse differ from one posting to another. As a mental health nurse, one is often required to work long, unsociable hours and travel extensively across several locations. To cope with the pressure of the roles and changing needs of their patients, a mental health nurse must be energetic, versatile, perceptive, and compassionate. Mental health nurses should also have strong communication, interpersonal, and problem-solving skills.

Where will they work?

Mental health nurses work in diverse settings, most based in hospitals and community centers. In a hospital role, they may work in the psychiatric ward, specialist units dealing with eating disorders, and outpatient unit. In the community, they may work in prison, GP surgery, residential center, patients’ own homes, and community healthcare center.

Key takeaways

Psychiatric nurses play a key role in helping the millions of people needing support for their mental health disorders. These important professionals support patients with their mental health conditions to regain control over their lives. Becoming a nurse in the mental health field can be a rewarding challenge. The career offers competitive pay, good job security, and lots of career progression opportunities.