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What Does a Psychiatric / Mental Health Nurse Do?
A nurse working in mental health or psychiatrics will find that patient care is similar to that of traditional nursing, but requires much more understanding and patience. Nurses in this profession often work with patients and their families in order to effectively reach each person involved.

They are educated in the most effective therapeutic remedies so that each patient is given the best care. Nursing in the psychiatric field differs from traditional nursing in that the treatments are very different in each field. Psychiatric nurses use traditional therapy as well as psychotherapy in order to bring comfort to ailing patients.

MSN in Psychiatric / Mental Health Nursing Online

Nurses can work in the mental health field with a master's degree. It is recommended that students take part in the mental health path while in the master's program, so that they have the necessary information for treating patients of mental illness.

Universities that provide this program recommend that students have some previous education in psychology or mental health related field prior to enrolling. While in this program, students will be educated on the different mental illnesses and how they contribute to overall health.

From a bachelor's level, these programs can last around 2 years on average, depending on how engaged students are and how many courses are taken at a time.

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Psychiatric and mental health registered nurses tend to work on psychiatric units of a hospital or within the community. They assess mental health status, create nursing plans, make referrals for further mental health care and evaluate the effectiveness of the nursing care. They can administer medication and facilitate group-counseling sessions.

For a more comprehensive list of programs in psychology at every degree level, feel free to peruse our sister sites with over 3,000 psychology degrees at undergraduate and graduate levels.

Typical Courses for Psychiatric Nursing

Courses include psychological diagnostic reasoning, advanced pharmacology for primary care, management of psychopathology, and group and family therapies. The curriculum alone communicates a large need for education in psychological principles.

Typical Courses for Mental Health Nursing

Mental disorders are different than most other physical disorders in that they do not portray any physiological symptoms for the most part. It is important that professionals understand the different mental properties of each disease, so that they are not unexpected reactions or misunderstanding on the part of the nurse.

In addition to the core curriculum requirements, students are required to gain licensure in the field of nursing, if not already obtained, and maintain continuing educational requirements set forth by their state.

Advanced practice psychiatric nurses assess, diagnose and treat people with mental health illnesses. They maypractice psychotherapy and prescribe medication. APRNs must earn a Master of Science in Nursing degree and pass their board certification exam in psychiatric care. An advanced psychiatric nurse practitioner can continue her education and earn a Doctorate in nursing degree as well. Many psych nurses go on to teach at the University level or perform research projects.

Becoming a psychiatric or mental health nurse requires that the nurse learn very specific skills, such as establishing a therapeutic relationship, handling challenging communication and behavior, and psychological treatment modalities. The particulars of psychiatric medications, including when and how to administer the different drugs, is an important skill as well. View all APRN specialties.

Mental Health Nursing

The mental health field, specifically, is a field that is relatively new in comparison to other fields. Therefore, nurses that desire to work in this field must be willing to go the extra mile to guarantee their reliability throughout their career.

Psychiatric or mental health nursing degrees give nurses the education needed to work in this truly remarkable field. With subjects that unite psychological concepts with general nursing skills, this field is one that molds versatile professionals that are needed in many different settings.

The Importance of Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurses

The mental health field works directly with patients suffering from mental disorders. These patients can sometimes be volatile or unpredictable, which increases the importance of patience and understanding from the nursing professionals working with them.

Psychological health is one that is constantly undergoing tests and research so that new treatments can emerge. In order to provide patients with the most comfort and care during their visits with mental health specialists, the medical field has implemented an entire field of nursing especially for this scope of practice.

Priorities of a Psychiatric Nurse

Guiding patients to a comfortable lifestyle is a main concern of psychiatric nurse. These nurses are the caring hand that is closest to the patient. Since a nurse is likely the first person a patient sees when walking in the door, it is important that nurses be caring and comforting.

Mental health nurses can work in large hospitals, assisting with emergency care and treatment of patients within the facilities. They can also work in private practices, handling a regular set of patients alongside psychiatrists. Regardless of which platform they work, nurses must project a knowledge of the different treatment programs that physicians use for each patient.

Understanding how these treatments will change a person’s attitude, mood, and comprehension will assist a mental health nurse in helping them get the right treatment and report for his or her illness. Intervention is another skill that psychiatric nurses will learn while in their educational programs.

Mental health patients are subject to a variety of different ailments that can create troublesome situations for professionals in the field. Knowing how to handle delicate situations is one skill that will prove to be beneficial to those involved. Handing these situations while still preserving the dignity of patients is what makes psychiatric nurses a preferred field for the most qualified individuals.

Careers for Mental Health Nurses

Financially, mental health nurses can earn $102,670 on average according to the BLS. Salaries vary depending on location and experience. Since the psychological field is one that requires specialized training, those working in the field should be expected to take part in continuing training throughout their career.

Psychology as a field continues to develop, adding new methods and testing new theories. As it continues to change for the better, nurses will be expected to change with it. It is truly rewarding to be part of such an innovative field that provides such a helpful service to its patients. Working as a mental health nurse at the master’s level can be one of the most fulfilling experiences of a lifetime.

Providing desperately needed care to patients – suffering either from minor or serious mental disabilities – will promote a great sense of self, meaning that professionals in this field will truly connect to their career. There is no better feeling than knowing that a person’s life quality has been increased; this is something that is constantly occurring in this field. View all nursing careers.

Psychatiric Nurses Association and Certification

If interested, the PMHN can go on to pursue their certification with the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). To be eligible to sit for the exam, the nurse must have an active nursing license, a minimum of 2000 hours of direct psychiatric nursing experience, and at least 30 hours of continuing education credit.

The American Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA) is the main professional organization representing psychiatric nurses and nurse practitioners. They administer continuing education credits and present the latest research studies. There is also an international professional organization, the International Society of Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurses, that provide support and education to mental health nurses around the world. Check out their website, and click here for more information.

Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing Explained

By Lisa Davila

Psychiatric and mental health (PMH) nurses comprise only about 3 percent of all registered nurses in the U.S., according to the latest workforce report from the Health Resources and Services Administration. Among advanced practice nurses, psychiatric-mental health specialties, such as nurse practitioners (NPs) and clinical nurse specialists, are the fourth most popular choice, behind family practice NPs, adult health NPs, and certified registered nurse anesthetists.

Most PMH nurses work in psychiatric hospitals or psychiatric departments of general care hospitals. With the advent of better treatments and more effective psychiatric medications, more patients are being treated as outpatients, so PMH nurses can also be found in a variety of settings such as community mental health centers, substance abuse clinics, academic institutions, and state and federal agencies. There are many subspecialties available for PMH nurses including pediatric mental health, geriatric mental health, and substance abuse.

You can become a PMH nurse with any basic nursing educational background, whether you prepare at the associate’s or bachelor’s degree level. Once you have your RN license, you can gain working experience in psychiatric/mental health settings and then become certified as a PMH RN by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. To move into advanced practice you will need a master’s degree or a DNP.

What You Do as a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse

As a basic PMH, your role is to assess a patient’s psychiatric/mental health needs, formulate a plan of care, implement that plan, and then evaluate its effectiveness. You also promote wellness and aid patients in the prevention of mental health disorders. You care for patients with psychiatric diagnoses such as depression, anxiety, mood disorders, eating disorders, substance abuse, and diseases with psychotic features such as some forms of schizophrenia.

PMH nurses spend a lot of time talking with patients and teaching them how to cope with their illness. They assist with therapies such as cognitive exercises, behavior modification, and family therapy. They may provide spiritual support. They may assist with the administration of electroconvulsive therapy (yes, this still exists, particularly for intractable depression). Along with these specialized nursing functions PMH nurses also administer and monitor medication provide needed physical care, and assess and treat co-existing medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, etc.

Advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) (also called advanced practice psychiatric nursesAPPNs) can diagnose and treat patients, as well as their families, who are dealing with a mental health diagnosis. Some work at the group or community level and focus on mental wellness and the prevention of psychiatric disorders, such as substance abuse. In some states, APRNs can practice independently and prescribe medications.

The Job Outlook for PMH Nurses

There is a great demand for PMH nurses in the U.S. According to a study published by the University of Southern Maine, APRNs are especially needed: Nationwide there are only about 3 APRNs per 100,000 people. Since 1995, however, approximately 300 new APRNs start practicing every year, so the profession is growing.

Psychiatric nursing is not for the faint of heart. You need good leadership skills, courage, and an assertive nature. When an agitated patient is screaming profanities in your face, you need to have clear personal boundaries that allow you maintain your sense of self and focus on the therapeutic relationship.

To find out if this specialty is a good fit, consider volunteering at a psychiatric hospital or clinic. In addition, practically all basic nursing education programs include a class in mental health nursing that includes some real-life clinical experiences as part of the class.

For more information and resources, check out the American Psychiatric Nurses Association.

List of Mental Health Psych Nursing Programs

All Mental Health Psych Nursing Programs

See below for the list of all of the Mental Health Psych Nursing programs in our database.

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