A mental health nurse is a nurturing and caring role, looking after those with mental health conditions. If you have a desire to help people or want to do your bit in making the world a better place, working in a mental health job is a great opportunity.
Being a mental health nurse is a challenging position where no two days are the same. You can work either within a hospital or community setting, depending on your employer.
What is a mental health nurse?
A mental health nurse's key responsibility is to help people with mental health conditions. You will either help them live independently to improve their quality of life or support them in their recovery journey.
Your role as a mental health nurse is to decide the suitable form of treatment, whether that is various therapies, activities or medication. You will advise any potential risks, create care plans and encourage your patient to take ownership of their condition and life.
Mental health nurses can specialise in working with either children or older people, specific groups or certain areas of a mental health condition such as anxiety, eating disorders and personality disorders.
To update your knowledge and training, your NMC registration is renewed every three years.
Your setting can vary from patient’s homes, hospital psychiatric wards, and secure resident units to community healthcare centres. It will depend on your role and the speciality on where you will base yourself. It’s one of those roles where you will continuously be working with different people, and improving the lives of many. You can lead teams and take on high levels of responsibility as a mental health nurse.
The responsibilities of a mental health nurse can differ, depending on your speciality and where you work.
These are the general day-to-day responsibilities of the therapy nurse role:
- Speak with patients about their conditions, assess and discuss the best treatment plan for them.
- Create strong relationships with patients to build trust and learn more about their needs and concerns.
- Be a calming aid for distressed patients and help them understand the source of their discomfort.
- Monitor the correct administration of medication and the results.
- Educate patients on how they can manage their emotions through de-escalation techniques.
- Provide the right type of therapy based on evidence for their condition.
- Be a part of one-to-one and group therapy sessions individually and with other health care professionals.
- Organise and maintain patient records and create care plans.
- Observe the legal requirements appropriate for the setting of work.
- Plan social events for patients to help with their isolating feelings and develop their social skills.
- Collaborate with patients' carers or families to help them support their loved ones with mental health conditions.
- Encourage patients to take part in varied types of discussions such as role play or drama.
- Provide physical care for patients who are unable to look after themselves.
- For community work nurses, you may also have to visit patients' homes, to monitor their progress and carry out a risk assessment, as well as liaise with fellow professionals on patients’ treatment plans.
For a mental health nurse in the NHS, you will be paid based on their Agenda for Change system. The mental health nurse’s salary typically begins as a band 5 on the NHS pay scale. This is £27,055 for entry-level, increasing to £32,934 for fully qualified. As you progress in experience, you can increase your salary with bands 6 to 7 ranging from £33,706 to £47,672. If you reach the consultancy level as a mental health nurse, the salary can start on band 8a, ranging from £48,526 to £54,619.As a mental health nurse, you will also receive a strong pension, health service discounts and 27 days of annual leave plus bank holidays.
Working as a mental health nurse is a graduate job. You will need to acquire an undergraduate nursing degree approved by the Nursing & Midwifery Council (NMC), as well as register with them to work as a mental health nurse in the UK. A degree will aid you in being eligible for registration.
The degree you choose needs to be one of the nursing disciplines, either adult, children, learning disability or mental health. A few universities offer dual-field degrees, with the opportunity to study more than one of these areas.
An undergraduate degree takes three years full-time and four if you choose a dual-field degree. During your degree, you will have on-hand experience, with placement as part of your programme. This will typically be in clinical practice, giving you the experience of working with families and patients.
The NMC requires good health for all mental health nurses, however, those with disabilities or health conditions aren’t exempt. You will also be required to declare any criminal convictions or charges.
Training and development
Initially, new mental health nurses will take part in a period of preceptorship. This is the equivalent of a formal induction and mandatory training for the job, as well as putting into practice everything you learnt in theory about this line of work. This phase helps you build your confidence and develop your hands-on skills. The preceptorship includes broad skills in leadership, management, teaching, and communication, as well as fundamental competencies in patient care.
Employers may offer apprenticeships for registered nurse degrees (RNDA). A mental health nurse apprenticeship offers you the opportunity to study whilst gaining experience first-hand in the setting as a mental health nurse.
To update your knowledge and training, your NMC registration is renewed every three years. To renew, you will need to meet the right requirements including 450 practice hours, generally made up of providing care to patients, teaching others or managing teams. 35 hours of continuing professional development (CPD) is also expected. This includes 20 hours of participatory learning, interacting with at least one other professional, as well as attending conferences, training courses and events. Additionally, five pieces of practice-related feedback have to be submitted.
As a mental health nurse, you need to be strong, understanding and work well with others.
These are the top skills to acquire:
- Strong observation skills to be able to assess patients and understand their behaviours.
- Physically strong, particularly when working in a secure residential unit or hospital.
- Great with communication and dealing with patients and their families.
- Strong knowledge of psychology and medicine.
- The ability to stay calm in distressing and challenging situations.
- Strong emotional resilience and the ability to have a non-judgmental approach.
- Great at decision making and dealing with time and stress management.
- The ability to be empathetic towards patients and their situations, and advise them accordingly.
- Good attention to detail.
- Strong team player and can work well with other.
- Basic computer skills.
- The ability to help others overcome the social stigma around mental health.
Employers may offer apprenticeships for registered nurse degrees (RNDA). A mental health nurse apprenticeship offers you the opportunity to study whilst gaining experience first-hand in the setting as a mental health nurse. The part-time study element will be at university or based at home and the onsite work will be in the employer’s setting. A mental health nursing apprenticeship can take four years to complete on average and the employer covers the cost. Contact your local hospitals for their mental health nursing degree apprenticeship opportunities.
If you are already working in a healthcare support role, there’s the opportunity to apply for a nursing associate apprenticeship, which is another way into nursing. This is then possible to progress to an RNDA.
Mental health work experience can be useful when applying for courses or jobs as it shows your passion and commitment to the profession. This type of experience can range from working with a mental health charity to volunteering at a hospital. As long as it involves caring for others, it can be useful. There could also be the opportunity to shadow a nurse and see what the day-to-day role is like to gain experience.
A mental health nurse's key responsibility is to help people with mental health conditions.
Contact your local health care settings from care homes, and charities to hospitals for work experience and internship opportunities available.
There are multiple ways to progress as a mental health nurse. For example, you have the option to become a specialist nurse. This involves choosing a specific client group, from children to offenders to a specific area in mental health such as substance misuse to psychotherapeutic interventions. Being in a specialist role could mean moving hospitals or healthcare settings.
Alternatively, you can progress further up the career ladder by either moving into an advanced nurse practitioner, nurse consultant or manager position. These roles can also lead you into specialist areas. For higher-up positions, you may also require further qualifications such as a master's degree, plus relevant experience. These senior positions can sometimes be less hands-on with nursing and focus more on research. The nurse leader or manager role can lead you to manage a team of nurses.
You can also choose to move into an educational route, becoming a lecturer at university, mentoring other student nurses or supporting newly qualified nurses.
Further progression can mean working within independent and private healthcare companies and moving into social services or residential nursing homes. Additionally, there’s the option to work overseas.