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What Does a Mental Health Nurse Do?

Mental health nurses help assess, diagnose and care for patients struggling with psychological issues. Continue reading to see if this is the career for you.

Career Overview

Mental health nursing involves helping patients and their families deal with mental and emotional dysfunction to promote wellness, healthy daily functioning, and social interactions. As a mental health nurse, you will work in various programs and facilities throughout the community to help monitor, evaluate, and educate patients and their families in mental wellness and healthy ways of living.

Important Facts About Mental Health Nurses

Median Salary (2019) $60,812*
Job Outlook (2016-2026) 15% growth (for all registered nurses)**
Key Skills Situational awareness, critical thinking, problem solving, reading comprehension, good judgment and decision making
Similar Occupations Physician assistants; licensed vocational nurses; licensed practical nurses; EMTs; paramedics

Sources: *PayScale.com, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Description

Mental health nurses perform patient assessments, evaluations, and monitoring to collect information from which to create active care plans. These care plans describe the therapeutic goals and modalities of treatment which are patient specific and aimed at restoring balance and stability to mentally and emotionally dysfunctional patients. As a mental health nurse, you will lead treatment groups, make clinical recommendations, administer and evaluate medications, help to educate the patient and family, as well as coordinating community services for outpatient care.

You may work at an in-patient facility or at an out-patient clinic, treatment center, or community outreach program. You will be exposed to many kinds of people in various stages of mental or emotional illness and disability. It is your duty to model appropriate behavior and healthy relationships regardless of the situation. In addition to being compassionate, you must also be very observant, calm, and prepared for crisis. Excellent communication skills are required.

Education and Training

Mental health nurses receive the same initial training as registered nurses (RNs). They graduate from nursing associate's or bachelor's degree programs with training in patient care. Many employers desire applicants who have further mental health training, such as 12-Step Addictions training or behavior modification experience; however, much of the psychiatric mental health nurse training is learned on the job. The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) issues a Psychiatric and Mental Health Nurse Certification for nurses who meet the eligibility criteria:

  • Current RN license
  • Two years full-time practice as an RN
  • Minimum of 2,000 clinical hours of practice in the last three years in mental health nursing
  • Completion of 30 hours of mental health continuing education in the last three years

There are several advanced practice mental health nursing graduate and doctoral programs for nurses who want to advance their careers. They typically require a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and experience in the field for entry into the program.