How To Become A Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse

What Is A Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse?

A psychiatric mental health nurse is a nurse, as the name implies, who is involved in working with patients that have psychiatric disorders. Assessing and treating those patients are the main function of the psychiatric mental health nurse. In addition to treating individuals psychiatric mental health nurses also treat families, groups as well as entire communities throughout their career.

Nature Of The Work/Duties

As a psychiatric mental health nurse:Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse

  • You will be able to develop a plan of care
  • You will be able to prescribe medication
  • You will be able to administer psychotherapy
  • You will be able to implement the nursing process
  • You will be able to evaluate the nursing process for effectiveness
  • You will be able to offer primary care services to the psychiatric-mental health population
  • You will be able to develop a nursing diagnosis
  • You will be able to treat, assess, and diagnose individuals and families with psychiatric disorders or the potential for such disorders

Consequently you role as a psychiatric mental nurse carries with it a high degree of responsibility, which is matched by a vast improvement in the professional respect that you will receive with this specialization.


There is a high degree of autonomy for nurses who want to work in psychiatric mental health nursing. Because in many cases you will be permitted to work on your own without the supervision of a superior, there are many psychiatric mental health nurses who are self-employed and have their own psychiatric practices. In addition you can work in mental health institutions, where the atmosphere will be very similar to that of a normal hospital. However you will work as a superior rather than as a subordinate. Employment is limited to those facilities and institutions that exist for the purpose of treating patients with mental health disorders. However, as you will also have general nursing skills, employment is possible in any facility where a specialty in a specific area of nursing is not a requirement.

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Requirements

There are two main basic requirements involved in becoming a psychiatric mental health nurse:

  • You need to hold an RN license
  • You need to pass the psychiatric mental health nursing examination

There are educational requirements involved in achieving the above two basic steps. These two requirements may, in addition, involve passing a background check (to ensure that you are of the correct moral character for a job as a nurse) and a health check (as nurses cannot serve others of they themselves are unwell). Basic skills tests could also be administered when entering the programs required to attain the qualifications mentioned above. In addition there are certain personality requirements that will stand psychiatric mental health nurses in good stead and help them make a success out of their careers in this nursing domain.

Personality Traits

To be a successful psychiatric mental health nurse you need to remember at all times that you will not be a very effective source of care for your patient if you, too, are suffering emotionally or physically. Working in this profession can take its toll, so it is important that you have a personality that allows you to seek help when it is required. In addition you need to be able to show genuine caring for your patience, as well as patience. A non-judgmental attitude is required if you are to connect with your patients on a meaningful level. As in all other aspects of nursing you need to be able to communicate effectively with those you work with as effective communication is the key to ensuring that your patients are adequately cared for.

Educational Requirements

The educational requirements for being a psychiatric mental health nurse have already been touched on briefly:

  • You need a high school diploma. When at high school try to focus on subjects that will help you in a career in nursing, such as biology.
  • Once out of school you must earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing. This will take four years to complete and will eventually culminate in your ability to write the RN exam and become licensed.
  • Note: some experience as an RN at this juncture will be helpful.
  • After that you need to earn a master’s degree in psychiatric mental health nursing. This will take an additional few years to complete.

The educational path to becoming a psychiatric mental health nurse is a long one that will require hard work and dedication.


The license that you need in order to become a psychiatric mental health nurse is the RN license. You can attain your RN license through a two year program leading to an associate’s degree in nursing, a three-year programs leading to a diploma in nursing, or a four-year college or university program leading to a bachelor’s degree in nursing. As mentioned previously it is necessary to earn a bachelor’s degree to be a psychiatric mental health nurse, so that is the path you should take. Graduation from an RN program will allow you to apply for licensure from your state board of nursing. When your application is approved you will have to set a date to write the NCLEX-RN examination. Passing the exam earns you your RN license which must be renewed regularly.

How To Become A Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse

Training, Advancement And Other Qualifications

There are several different specific specialties that you can focus on when completing your master’s degree in psychiatric mental health nursing:

  • You could focus specifically on treating children and adolescents OR elderly citizens: Both of these demographic populations require different psychiatric care models than adults. However you will be able to take broad courses that train you to treat all ages.
  • Another subcategory that you could choose to specialize in is substance use disorders. Addictions nurses also train in this area of nursing, but as a psychiatric mental health nurse you will have a higher level of education and will therefore not face a lot of competition from addictions nurses.
  • A third subcategory involves training in forensics and all things related to forensics. This is one of the rarer areas of psychiatric mental health nursing to choose.

Source An Accredited Education Program

Unfortunately there are nursing programs out there that will not result in a legitimate degree once you complete them. Finding an accredited program is essential. One place to begin your search for an accredited program is website of Psychiatric Nursing Graduate Programs at Your state board of nursing will be able to inform you whether or not a program you are interested in is accredited. In addition the two bodies that accredit nursing programs in this country, namely the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) and the National League for Nursing, will have information regarding the accreditation status of a program. The schools themselves should provide this information as well, but there is no guarantee that they will necessarily be honest and open if they are, in fact, not accredited.

Earn Your Associate’s Degree

For many nursing jobs an associate’s degree is all that is required, and it certainly is a good way to start your career in nursing as it will allow you to become an RN. But, if you specifically want to specialize in mental health nursing, you will have to take your education further:

  • First you must earn a bachelor’s degree
  • Then you must earn a master’s degree

To earn a degree in nursing you need to start by locating the various schools and universities in your area t5hat offer nursing programs and determine which of these schools best meet your educational and other needs. Ensure that you are aware of the entrance requirement for the schools that you prefer and apply, being careful to follow each school’s application process. Completing the program will earn you your degree.

Obtain Your Licensure

The basic credentials that you need to be a psychiatric mental nurse are an RN license and certification as a psychiatric mental health nurse. The RN license will be obtained when you complete the necessary degree. Information regarding how to become certified as a psychiatric mental health nurse can be found at the website of the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Note: There are several different specialties within psychiatric mental health nursing and several different levels that you can obtain certification for. Before you enquire with the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) you need to consider what area of psychiatric mental health nursing you are most interested in becoming certified in as well as whether or not you will be able to meet the requirements for that specific certification.

Online/Distance Education Programs

For the two degrees involved in becoming a psychiatric mental health nurse there are a number of schools that offer online training. I must be remembered, however, that a degree in nursing always consists of two aspects:

  • The theoretical side of the training program
  • The clinical side of the training program

“Clinical” means “practical experience in an actual health care setting” and this cannot, for obvious reasons, be completed online. So, although it is possible to complete a portion of your program online, you will be unable to complete the entire program online. The advantages to studying online are:

  • You will work at your own pace
  • You will not be tied down by classroom schedules
  • You will not have to give up your current job in order to study

Job Outlook

Mental health nurses are advanced practice nurses and there is an expected increase in the number of jobs that will be available for advanced practices nurses over the next few years. In addition the nursing profession in general is growing substantially with each passing year, another aspect that makes it a stable career to choose. In fact, in many areas across the country there are in fact more nursing job openings than nurses to fill them, meaning that you will always have a stable job in this area of the nursing profession. Because you will also have training as a general RN, you will be able to work in facilities and institutions where no nursing specialties are required as well as in psychiatric mental health institutions where you will have a position of superiority.


As a psychiatric nurse you can expect an hourly rate of about $21.01 – $38.52 an hour and overtime pay of $16.73 – $59.42 an hour. Overall you could expect to earn something in the region of $43,416 – $84,812 a year.

Your level of education is an example of a factor that can affect how much you earn as a mental health nurse:

  • With an Associate’s Degree can earn about $20.53 – $38.41 an hour
  • With a Bachelor’s Degree can earn about $21.55 – $39.72 an hour
  • With a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) can earn about $21.29 – $38.45 an hour
  • With an Associate Degree Nursing (ADN) can earn about $19.99 – $39.73 an hour
  • With an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) can earn about $20.82 – $37.61 an hour

Some cities tend to offer higher salaries than others. Popular cities in terms of pay for psychiatric mental health nurses are San Diego in California, Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, Phoenix in Arizona, New York in New York, Seattle in Washington, Denver in Colorado, Richmond in Virginia, Atlanta in Georgia, Chicago in Illinois, Boston in Massachusetts, Rochester in New York, Portland in Oregon, San Antonio in Texas, Louisville in Kentucky, Jacksonville in Florida, and Kansas City in Missouri.

This is a job that pays fairly well, but you must remember that mental health patients can be dangerous, meaning that you need to weigh up the pros and cons for yourself before making this decision.

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