Professional Job Description of a Mental Health Nurse

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Mental health nurses help psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health professionals counsel and treat patients with a variety of emotional and psychiatric issues, from substance abuse oriented problems to paranoid-schizophrenia. Mental health nurses also help with the dispensing of medication for patients.

Psychiatric nurses with an advanced education may be able to prescribe medication on their own.


Mental health nurses work with psychiatrists in hospitals, mental health care centres, doctors' private practice and public mental health agencies. They assist in crisis interventions, help patients with daily care routines, administer medications, and formulate treatment plans and treatment regimens. Psychiatric nurses with master's degrees who complete practice in a supervised clinical situation can become a mental health nurse practitioner.

Education and Training

Psychiatric nurses need to earn a bachelor of science in nursing from a university or a two-year associate degree with a hospital's training department. After learning the rudimentary aspects of nursing, you'll need to branch out and take courses in psychology, therapy and psychiatric medicine. A nursing student should master the therapeutic alliance, which involves the relationship between a mental health nurse, a psychiatric patient and other health care professionals treating the patient. This can be achieved through elective courses, internships and assisting other professionals with patients in a clinical setting. Psychiatric nurses must earn an RN (registered nurse) designation through proper education and certification before practicing professionally.

Types of Patients

Mental health nurses may deal with teenagers, the elderly or adult patients depending on their training and interests. A wide range of patients, from people coping with serious illnesses, abuse victims, drug addicts to people with lifelong mental health disorders may be treated in the nurse's place of work. Each type of patient has her own issues, and specialised training will be needed to deal with bipolar people, for example, or substance abusers suffering from hallucinations.


Mental health nurses earn certification from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Nurses can take the computer-based test at their convenience in specialities such as Adult Psychiatric and Mental Health or Child/Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health. Certified nurses command better positions and higher salaries.


The employment outlook for mental health nurses (and all nursing professions) will increase as the population ages and more people of all ages seek psychiatric care. The American Association of the College of Nursing devotes an entire section of their website to the nursing shortage crisis, and psychiatric nurses are in great demand, particularly in urban areas.