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What is a mental health nurse?


Mental wellbeing is something we should never take for granted. According to Mind, it’s estimated that around 1/4 of the UK population will experience a mental health problem at some point each year. That’s why it’s so important that people and organisations are campaigning for better understanding and greater tolerance. They are also campaigning for continued investment in treatments, facilities and professional mental health practitioners.

A great way to help this cause is by becoming a mental health nurse. Whether you’re just starting out your career in nursing, or you’re looking to take the next step in your journey, our helpful guide highlights everything you need to know about mental health nursing.

What are mental disorders?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health disorders “comprise a broad range of problems, with different symptoms. However, they are generally characterized by some combination of abnormal thoughts, emotions, behaviour and relationships with others. Examples include schizophrenia, depression, intellectual disabilities and disorders due to drug abuse.”

Why become a mental health nurse?

A person may want to specialise in mental health nursing for various reasons – this role can be incredibly rewarding, as you get to work with a variety of people. Mental health nursing can also be quite challenging, as you have to work with the most vulnerable in society and be able to adapt easily. There is an urgent need for more mental health nurses in the UK – 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 firstly 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.

What’s involved in working as a mental health nurse?

As a registered mental health nurse (RMN), it‘s your job to treat and support adults, young people and children facing complex and difficult health challenges. These can leave them feeling stigmatised, discriminated against and even violated.

Working as an 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. And it’s a vocation full of challenge and great rewards. Many people with a mental health disorder remain undiagnosed and untreated. A range of therapies are now available that can make a difference to patients’ lives – and that’s where you come in.

Skills for mental health nursing

Mental health nursing can be challenging at times – there is a particular skillset you need to acquire before practicing the role. Personality traits and skills that are useful include:

  • Adaptability – you may need to adapt to patient personalities and moods. You may even find yourself in a versatile range of situations from patient altercations on the ward to intimate family matters.
  • Resilience – mental health nursing comes with a host of challenges, whether that be patient behaviour or witnessing hostile environments. It is important you are able to work well under pressure, and cope with any challenges that come your way.
  • 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 you are able to think of solutions quickly when problems arise.

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).

Working as an RMN in a hospital means you might 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 clients, their families, and carers. Physical care will be part of the work, but it’s certainly not the only aspect of the job.

Many clients will be taking some medication to help relieve their condition and, as a mental health nurse, you’ll have a role here too. You may also need to advise clients about physical and mental therapies, including role play, art and talking therapies. 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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