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What Is a Mental Health Nurse and What Do They Do?

A mental health nurse (RMN) is responsible for planning and providing care for patients with mental health conditions. By treating and supporting people who are experiencing conditions ranging from anxiety and depression to personality disorders and eating disorders, mental health nurses help their patients to achieve the best possible outcomes.

Whether you’re starting your career in nursing or are looking to take the next step in your journey, our helpful guide outlines the roles and responsibilities of a mental health nurse, where they work, the skills and qualities they possess, how much they earn and how to become one.

What do mental health nurses do?

The role of a mental health nurse is to care for and support adults, young people and/or children facing complex and difficult mental health challenges. This involves building effective relationships with people who use mental health services, along with their relatives and carers, helping patients take their medication correctly and advising on appropriate therapies or social activities.

A mental health nurse’s roles and responsibilities will typically include the following:

  • Assessing and talking to patients about their challenges to determine the best way to deliver their care
  • Listening to and interpreting patients’ needs and concerns to build relationships and trust
  • Ensuring the correct administration of medication and monitoring results
  • Identifying and responding to patients who are experiencing moments of distress
  • Using de-escalation techniques to help patients manage their emotions
  • Preparing and leading group and/or one-to-one therapy sessions
  • Providing evidence-based individual therapy

Working as a registered mental health nurse (RMN) is a vital, front-line job. RMNs account for about 12% (34,000) of the nursing profession in Scotland, and this figure is similar for Northern Ireland too. It’s a vocation full of challenges and great rewards.

Where would I work as a mental health nurse?

When working as an RMN, you are likely to work in a variety of settings. These include:

  • Care homes
  • Local health centres
  • Clients’ homes
  • GP practices
  • NHS, HSE and private hospitals
  • In the prison service (26% of women and 16% of men in prison say they received treatment for a mental health problem)

If you work as an RMN in a hospital, you may be based in either a psychiatric unit, a specialist ward or an outpatients department. Your daily activities are likely to be focused on building relationships with your patients, their families, and carers. Physical care will be part of this work, but it’s certainly not the only aspect of the job.

What skills and qualities are needed in mental health nursing?

Mental health nursing can be challenging at times so there is a particular skill set that is beneficial for you to possess. Personality traits and skills that are useful include:

  • Adaptability – you will work with many different people with various mental health challenges, so it is important for you to be able to adapt and stay flexible so that you can provide your patients with the care and support that they need. It is also crucial that you are able to respond quickly to any crisis that arises.
  • Resilience – mental health nursing comes with a host of challenges, whether that is having difficult interactions with patients or witnessing hostile environments. It is important for you to be able to work well under pressure, and cope with any situations that come your way, so that you are able to protect your own health and wellbeing.
  • Interpersonal communication – it is vital to be able to convey information to patients and staff effectively. You will also need to be empathetic and offer support to your patients.
  • Problem solver – it is important that you are able to think of solutions quickly when problems arise.
  • Observational skills – you need to be able to assess patients and look out for any signs of change so that you can respond quickly and effectively.
  • Physical strength – being a mental health nurse can be a physically demanding role. For example, if you work in a hospital or secure residential unit you may be required to carry out controlled restraint techniques.

What is the average mental health nurse salary?

A full-time mental health nurse will work around 37.5 hours per week. This includes working nights, early starts, evenings, weekends and bank holidays.

Mental health nurse salary in Scotland and Northern Ireland

A mental health nurse’s salary will typically begin at band 5, increasing with experience.

Scotland salary:

NHS Band 5
(entry level)
NHS Band 6
(experienced nurses)
NHS Band 8a
(highest paid, nurse consultant)
The Guild ratesThe Guild bank
holiday rates
Up to £19.31/hourUp to £23.64/hourUp to £29.23/hourUp to £50.50/hourUp to £83/hour

Northern Ireland salary:

NHS Band 5
(entry level)
NHS Band 6
(experienced nurses)
NHS Band 8a
(highest paid, nurse consultant)
The Guild ratesThe Guild bank
holiday rates
Up to £16.90/hourUp to £20.81/hourUp to £28/hourUp to £50.50/hourUp to £83/hour

At the Guild, our mental health nurses are paid an hourly rate, earning up to £50.50 at standard rates and £83 on bank holidays in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Mental health nurse salary in the Republic of Ireland

A mental health nurse in the Republic of Ireland earns an average of €40,957 (€20.93/hour) annually. The starting salary is around €33,914 (€17.33/hour) gross per year. The highest salary of a psychiatric nurse in the Republic of Ireland can reach and exceed €50,000 (€25.64/hour) gross per year.

At the Guild you would be on an hourly rate, earning up to €60 at standard rates and €103.50 on bank holidays in the Republic of Ireland.

Why become a mental health nurse?

You may want to specialise in mental health nursing for various reasons. Many people choose to become mental health nurses because:

  • It can be an incredibly rewarding role
  • You work with a variety of people
  • You can work in various settings outside of a hospital
  • You’ll be supporting some of the most vulnerable in society

There is an urgent need for more mental health nurses in the UK and Ireland – meaning that a vacancy is almost guaranteed after qualifying.

How do I become a registered mental health nurse?

There are various routes into nursing – after completing a degree or traineeship approved by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), or the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland if you live in Ireland, you will first qualify as a general nurse.

You can then complete a two-year conversion course to become a mental health nurse. To be able to practice in the UK, all nurses have to register with the NMC.

Another option would be to complete a mental health nursing degree. Entry requirements are typically a minimum of three Scottish Highers at BBC grades plus Maths and English at a minimum of National 5. You will need at least grade H5 in two subjects and grade O6/H7 in four other subjects for Irish qualifications, Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate Qualifcation.

To access any mental health nursing course, you must have a satisfactory disclosure, Garda vetting or AccessNI check before starting.

Mental health nursing opportunities with the Guild

If you would like to work as a registered mental health nurse with the Guild and take advantage of our industry-leading pay rates and benefits package, please register here.

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