Facts About A Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse

What Is A Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse?

Psychiatric mental health nursing involves working with patients who are experiencing psychiatric problems. The term ‘patient’ in this context can refer to a single individual as well as to groups of people, families, and, in some cases, entire communities. The job is intensive and complex and requires many years of training. Consequently this is not the best line of work for all nurses.

Nature Of The Work/Duties

Psychiatric mental health nurses have a wider scope of practice than the average RN. Firstly they are permitted to develop their own diagnoses of patients within the mental health patient population. Like RNs they can develop a plan of care for the patient and implement the nursing process, but in this case it is specifically in relation to mental health patients. You will be able to offer primary care services to members of the mental health population. In addition you can diagnose, assess and treat patients as well as entire families and groups who you feel are at risk for developing mental disorders and that already have such disorders. You will also be permitted to prescribe psychiatric medications as well as administer psychotherapeutic techniques in order to facilitate the recovery of your patient.


As a psychiatric mental health nurse the primary places where you will find employment are:Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse

  • Mental health institutions and facilities
  • Hospitals
  • Private practice

Because of the level of education needed to be a psychiatric mental health nurse you will find that this job will bring with it a level of autonomy that you will not get in most other areas of nursing, even in many of the other nursing specialties. Consequently you can branch off and start your own private practice where you will, essentially, be self-employed. Even working in a facility brings with it a degree of autonomy as it is assumed that you will be able to handle the various issues that may (and do) arise on a daily basis with the greatest of ease given your skills and standing in the domain of psychiatric mental health nursing.

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Requirements

There are a number of requirements for entering this profession. First and foremost you need an RN license. An RN license can be achieved by earning an associate’s degree. In order to move forward, however, you need to have a bachelor’s degree in nursing. A bachelor’s degree will allow you, after you have written the licensing exam, to enter a master’s degree program. This is the level of education needed to become a psychiatric mental health nurse. In some cases you will be required to have a certain amount of experience as an RN before you will be permitted to enter a master’s degree program, specifically in areas where you may come into contact with mental health patients. Completing the program earns you the right to complete the psychiatric mental health nurse certification exam.

Personality Traits

These are the personality traits required:

  • Because communication is a key element in ensuring that a patient receives the care he or she requires, good communication skills are a must.
  • Empathy, or an ability to place yourself in another person’s position, is also required.
  • Nurses in all area of the profession need to possess and display genuine caring.
  • In order to maintain the level of control needed in a psychiatric mental health setting you must exude confidence.
  • A sense of humor will keep you positive in the midst of seemingly hopeless situations.
  • Because this is a line of work that can be depressing and taxing on the psychiatric mental health nurse herself, it is essential that you seek professional help when.

Educational Requirements

The educational requirements, to begin with, are very similar to those for most other nursing specialties. You need a high school diploma or an equivalent thereof, such as GED. Once you have graduated from high school a degree in nursing must be earned. Although you can become an RN with just an associate’s degree you will need a bachelor’s degree to move forward with a career in psychiatric mental health nursing, so that is the degree you should aim for. It will take about 4 years to complete. Once you have completed this degree and have an RN license you will need to go back to school in order to earn a master’s degree in nursing, majoring in psychiatric mental health nursing. All of these educational qualifications will include required practical experience and clinical work throughout.


To be a psychiatric mental health nurse you need to be a licensed RN. An RN license can be earned by following these steps:

  • Firstly you need to complete an RN program. If you have a career as mental health nurse in mind you should complete a bachelor’s program to facilitate your progress.
  • Graduating from this program will allow you to apply for licensure form your state board of nursing. Make sure that you know what all of the licensure requirements for your particular state are before applying.
  • If your state board of nursing confirms your application you will be able to make an appointment to write the NCLEX-RN examination.
  • Passing the examination means that you will receive your license. This license must be renewed regularly depending on the rules of your state.

How To Become A Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse

Training, Advancement And Other Qualifications

There are a number of specific areas within the field of psychiatric mental health nursing that you could choose to specialize in, including child and adolescent mental health nursing, gerontological-psychiatric nursing (this is psychiatric mental health nursing for the elderly), forensics, substance use disorders (you could also choose to specialize as an addictions nurse in order to deal with this aspect of mental health), and collaborative, integrative health care with primary care providers. When you complete your master’s degree in psychiatric mental health nursing you can choose to focus on one of these specialties or to approach the subject form a broader perspective. This is an ideal way to advance as an RN as there are few other nursing specialties that come with the degree of autonomy that psychiatric mental health nurses receive.

Source An Accredited Education Program

An accredited nursing program is one that is approved of by your state board of nursing. Non-accredited programs will waste your time and your money as you will be unable to continue with your current career path if the program you attend is not accredited. There are three main sources of information that will help you source an accredited training program:

  • The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN)
  • The National League for Nursing
  • The website of Psychiatric Nursing Graduate Programs at www.apna.org

The AACN and the National League of Nursing are the two bodies that accredit nursing programs and will therefore be able to provide you with information regarding whether or not the bachelor’s degree and master’s degree programs you are interested in are in fact legitimate options to choose.

Earn Your Associate’s Degree

This is one of the nursing specialties where earning an associate’s degree will not be enough to become an expert in the area. However it is a good way to enter the nursing profession and a good stepping stone to use on your educational journey to becoming a psychiatric mental health nurse. Locate accredited program in your area that offer the degree and create a shortlist of your favorite programs that best meet your career goals. Apply for each of these program (applying for more than one program broadens your chances). Each program will have its own entrance requirements which you will have to adhere to. A mistake at this point of the process may cost you approval. Choose a school from among those that accept you and complete the program through hard work and dedication to earn your associate’s degree.

Obtain Your Licensure

Once you have obtained your RN license you need to work towards becoming certified as a mental health nurse. To do this:

  • Complete the necessary master’s degree program in mental health nursing.
  • Pass the credentialing examination that will allow you to become certified as a psychiatric mental health nurse.

It is important to remember that there are a number of different subcategories in mental health nursing. In many cases these subcategories require their own special form of certification. Take note of what certification you would like to receive and be sure to adhere to the certification requirements for that specific subcategory. Information about the different levels and the different requirements for each level can be found by visiting the website of the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).

Online/Distance Education Programs

When searching for the degree programs necessary for becoming a psychiatric mental nurse you will realize that there are several schools that offer these programs online. However it is important to remember that the clinical sides of these degree programs must be completed in a healthcare setting where you will be able to get hands-on experience. Consequently there is no such thing as a nursing degree that can be completed entirely online. In addition online study does not suit everyone who wants to be a nurse. Not all students have the high level of motivation and self-discipline required to get through a degree course on their own and without a lecturer spurring them on. In addition you will not benefit from the valuable interaction with other students that can be so helpful in the learning process.

Job Outlook

There are a number of very compelling reasons why becoming a psychiatric mental health nurse is a good career move:

  • The job prospects for all RNs are improving dramatically with each passing year.
  • In addition, the job prospects for advanced practice nurses specifically are increasing at an even faster rate.
  • With a growing acceptance for the mental side of ailments across the country, more and more jobs for psychiatric mental health nurses in particular are becoming available.

You will benefit from all of these factors as a mental health nurse. You will have general RN training, allowing you to work in general RN jobs. Your certification as a psychiatric mental health nurse means that you are an advanced practice nurse, so you will benefit from that aspect of future projections as well.

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Earnings

Psychiatric nurses earn quite well. ON average their hourly rate is anything from about $20 to about $40 an hour. In addition they can expect annual bonuses in the region of $0.00 – $2,068 a year. The total salary that they are eligible to earn is between $43,000 and $85,000. The industry you work in will affect your pay. This is a list of popular industries including the pay you will earn when working in them:

  • In Healthcare you can earn about $22.50 – $38.19 an hour
  • In a Psychiatric Hospital you can earn about $22.25 – $37.26 an hour
  • In a General Hospital you can earn about $22.88 – $38.74 an hour
  • In Community Mental Health you can earn about $20.80 – $34.77 an hour
  • In an Acute Care Hospital you can earn about $23.28 – $39.38 an hour

Different states and different cities offer different salaries. The top paying cities tend to be:

  • San Diego, California
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Phoenix, Arizona
  • New York, New York
  • Seattle, Washington
  • Denver, Colorado
  • Richmond, Virginia
  • Atlanta, Georgia
  • Chicago, Illinois
  • Boston, Massachusetts
  • Rochester, New York
  • Portland, Oregon
  • San Antonio, Texas
  • Louisville, Kentucky
  • Jacksonville, Florida
  • Kansas City, Missouri

A career as a psychiatric mental health nurse can be a very stressful one in terms of the mental pressure you will place on yourself. A decision must be made at a personal level regarding whether or not the salary and other benefits are worth the emotional strain.

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