Nursing remains one of the fastest growing careers in the United States. There’s no sign that will change in the coming years, as many areas of the country still anticipate nursing shortages over the next decade.
Many nurses enter the field with the idea of working in a specific area of medicine. One of the areas in need of more nurses is the field of mental health nurse.
Mental health nurses work with patients who are experiencing psychiatric issues. They may work in crisis intervention or supporting psychologists in providing services. They also have expertise in the medications and therapies used to help patients overcome mental health issues.
Mental Health Nurse Duties
Mental health nurses work with patients who are experiencing a wide variety of issues. Common conditions include anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
Also, they can help patients handle mental health-related problems, such as substance abuse and other types of addictions.
Those who work in mental health nursing are trained to provide services for children, teens and adults. They may work with individuals or entire communities.
Mental health nurses have many choices for where they work. These include:
- Private mental health practices
- Outpatient mental health services
- State or federal facilities such as jails or prisons
- Hospitals, both regular and those that focus on providing psychiatric care
- Community mental health centers
- Home health care organizations
The day-to-day duties of a mental health nurse vary depending on where they work. A mental health nurse in a hospital, for example, would likely work the same 12-hour shift that other nurses work. Work at an outpatient clinic would likely involve more regular hours.
In all cases, mental health nurses work closely with patients who are experiencing psychiatric challenges. They are experts at assessing and diagnosing a patient’s condition and developing treatment plans that support patients in managing their psychiatric issues.
Typical jobs duties may include the following:
- Meeting with patients and assessing their mental health care needs
- Developing a plan to treat the patient’s condition
- Teaching patients coping skills for their mental health issues
- Coordinating care with a mental health team that includes doctors, nurses and other medical professionals
- Ordering any needed diagnostic tests and interpreting results
- Giving medications as prescribed to patients
- Providing patients counseling and leading therapeutic groups in a community setting
Salary and Job Growth
In the healthcare field, nurses form a large segment of the workforce. More than 2.9 million nurses were working in the U.S. in 2016, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, visited Oct. 10, 2018).
The BLS projects 15% growth in the nursing field by 2026, with more than 438,000 people entering the nursing profession. The number of mental health nurses is also expected to rise.
In psychiatric hospitals alone, the BLS projects a 2% increase in the number of registered nurses by 2026.
The mean annual salary for nurses was $73,550 in May 2017, according to the BLS. Job openings are available across the country, but states with a large or growing population have the highest demand. The top five states for nursing employment are California, Texas, New York, Florida and Pennsylvania.
The cities with the greatest number of nurses include New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Houston and Dallas.
But demand is everywhere. For example, the number of nurses in Florida is expected to increase 21.4% by 2026, based on projections from the BLS-supported Projections Managing Partnership.
National long-term projections may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth. Information provided is not intended to represent a complete list of hiring companies or job titles, and program options do not guarantee career or salary outcomes. Students should conduct independent research for specific employment information.
How to Become a Mental Health Nurse
Becoming a mental health nurse means first earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Many nurses who become an RN enter a RN-to-BSN program to complete their four-year degree.
Success as a mental health nurse requires a specific skill set. To perform the job duties listed above, those who work in mental health nursing should develop the following skills.
- Expertise in the behavioral sciences
- Good communication skills
- Openness to people with diverse backgrounds and lifestyles
- Empathy and strong interpersonal skills
- Critical-thinking skills
- Emotional stability that strengthens ability to work with people who are suffering mental health conditions, as well as in handling emergencies
To become eligible to work as a nurse, graduates must pass the NCLEX-RN exam, which provides certification to work as a nurse nationwide. This also paves the way to earning a Master of Science in Nursing.