A mental health nurse’s role is to promote and support patients’ recovery, helping them live independent and fulfilling lives. Mental health nurses work in hospitals and the community in order to support people with mental health issues. These nurses are involved in every aspect of patient care, from the assessment stage to the implementation of their care plan.
Often clients may be suffering from anxiety and depression, eating disorders or addictions to alcohol and drugs. To provide a comprehensive level of care, mental health nurses will work alongside all types of healthcare professionals – including doctors, social workers, occupational therapists and psychiatrists.
As a mental health nurse, every day will differ from the previous day, but the common thread will be an essential need to build a relationship with the patients and their support systems.
If you are considering a move to the mental health sector, there are many benefits to becoming a registered mental health nurse (RMN). One of these is that there is currently a shortage of nurses in this field - a higher demand for workers means more jobs and better packages for you. Another benefit is a high level of job security. It can be seen as a career for life, because many mental health placements are for long-term care.
Why work in mental health?
As a mental health nurse, you help some of the most vulnerable individuals in the country. This provides you with significant daily job satisfaction. Many of a mental health nurse’s tasks are centred around building positive and long-term relationships with patients, which isn’t always the case in other nursing fields. Mental health nurses help people improve their wellbeing and recovery from complex mental health problems, which is important work.
Mental health nurses work in a variety of places. These range from hospitals and communities to clinics and people’s homes, so there’s a lot of choice for nurses to pick the locations that suit them best. There are various other reasons why you should consider a career as a mental health nurse. For example, the role offers you the chance to make a difference, a high degree of flexibility and a career with excellent employment prospects.
Making a difference to society is arguably another main reason that most people are motivated to become mental health nurses. The job also provides stimulation and variety each and every day. It is important to note though, that working as a nurse in the mental health field is a highly challenging job. The needs of the people you are caring for are likely to be high, and extremely individualised - so you always have to be focused. The job requires patience, tenacity and enthusiasm even when working long hours. Despite the challenges, working as a mental health nurse can bring unrivalled rewards and it’s a worthwhile career.
Work is often carried out in multidisciplinary teams. You’ll be liaising with psychiatrists, psychologists, occupational therapists, GPs, social workers and other health professionals so you’re always learning. There is also a chance to progress in your career if you wish to - e.g. with experience you could become a sister or ward manager and be responsible for running a ward (or team of nurses) in the community. You could even go on to become matron or director of nursing if you wish to.
What jobs are in the mental health field?
A mental health nurse takes on many roles, such as holistic assessment, developing a programme of complex interventions and delivering specialised care to patients on a daily basis. During your nursing training, you will complete placements both in general mental health and children’s mental health.
Many of a nurse’s tasks are centred around building strong and productive relationships with patients and families. With so much professional development and frequent opportunities to interact with each patient, this career path offers many opportunities to progress.
Mental health nurses can specialise in working with certain groups - such as children or older people. Alternatively you can pick a specific area. You could work with issues such as eating disorders, psychosis, personality disorders, drugs and alcohol, depression and anxiety, or obsessive compulsive disorder.
Mental health nurses could work at a health centre, at an adult care home, in a private clinic, at a client's home, at a GP practice or in a prison. While some nursing work is carried out in actual mental health and secure hospitals, most mental health nurses are based in the community.
There are many options for you as a RMN and it’s worth noting that, as the biggest employer in Europe, the NHS employs the majority of mental health nurses. Some projects are jointly run by the NHS in partnership with social services, local authority departments and other agencies.
What qualifications do I need to work in mental health in the UK?
You have to be registered with the Nursing & Midwifery Council (NMC) to work as a mental health nurse in the UK. To be eligible, you must have completed a pre-registration nursing degree, or a nursing degree apprenticeship delivered by an NMC-approved education institution.
An apprenticeship is ideal if you already work in a healthcare setting like a hospital. The apprenticeship takes around four years and is a mix of academic study and on-the-job training. If you are interested, you must be supported by your employer to take this route, so check that they offer this.
Alternatively, you could qualify through an 18-month mental health nursing conversion course if you're already a registered nurse in a different branch. Your employer can also help if you want to do this.
Similarly, it’s possible to get accreditation of prior experiential learning (APEL) if you have practice-based learning or a degree in another health-related subject - e.g. life and medical science, social work or psychology. Having APEL may shorten your degree course to two years, but this is at the discretion of individual universities, so check with them.
Having relevant work experience is helpful when applying for courses or jobs because it shows your interest in and future dedication to the profession. This can include community work, voluntary work in a hospital or working with a mental health charity. Any experience that involves caring for others is useful, so make sure you share your work history in your application.
Are mental health nurse jobs in demand?
As mentioned earlier, there is a high demand for mental health nurses and reliable job security in this field. There is also less risk of job cuts and redundancy because there are shortages of mental health nurses in the NHS. To help meet the rising demand, the government is even creating more accessible routes to becoming a mental health nurse, including new initiatives such as the nursing associate apprenticeship.
One of the reasons for job security is that patients often need ongoing support throughout their lifetimes so it helps to have RMNs who can commit themselves for the long term. Most employers will be looking to recruit people that can commit to working with their patients for several years at least. With an ageing population, there will be an ever-increasing demand for mental health nurses to care for patients with illnesses such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
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