What Does a Forensic Mental Health Nurse Do?

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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 09 November 2019
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A forensic mental health nurse often has an important role in dealing with mentally ill individuals who have been accused of or convicted of crimes. He may also work in hospitals to help determine whether the cause of an injury is really what a patient or his family members say it is. Often, a person with this title helps in determining the right treatment or treatment facility for a person who has a mental illness. Usually, a person needs a nursing license and a master's degree in nursing to work in this field.

Often, a person with this title helps to evaluate individuals in jails or prisons as well as people who have been accused of crimes but have not yet been incarcerated. His job in such a case is to help determine whether a person has a mental health condition and to ensure that he is treated properly if he does. In some cases, a person with this title also helps in determining placement for these people, such as deciding if a person should be in a mental institution rather than in a prison. Additionally, a forensic mental health nurse may have the job of determining whether or not a person represents a safety or security risk.


In many cases, a forensic mental health nurse also has the job of evaluating patients who seek medical attention from hospitals or urgent-care facilities. His job might include using the results of an examination, diagnostic testing, and discussion with a patient to determine if a person has suffered an accident or been abused by another party. A forensic mental health nurse may, for example, prove helpful in determining whether a woman's broken ribs were the result of an accidental fall or abuse by her husband. He may also help in determining if injuries were self-afflicted because of a mental health condition. Likewise, he might help in evaluating whether a person is suicidal or simply acting suicidal to escape some sort of punishment.

Forensic mental health nurses often help in evaluating the right course of treatment for a patient or determining whether he even needs treatment. For example, in a jail or prison, he may help in determining if the patient needs medication or should be treated in a mental institution or ward rather than staying in the general prison population. This often means working with some of the most dangerous inmates.

To become a forensic mental health nurse, a person usually has to earn both a bachelor's and a master's degree in nursing. Choosing a forensic nursing or psychiatric nursing major in graduate school may improve a person's chances of landing this job. An individual can also enroll in a forensic nursing certificate program to prepare for this career. Nurse licensing is usually required as well. Additionally, in some jurisdictions, a nurse may need special licensing to work in jails and prisons.


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Post 1

Forensic mental health nurses also work in mental hospitals on forensic units to assist in the everyday care of those who have committed a crime and have a mental illness.

In this setting, their role is much like any RN in a regular hospital, but they must also be alert to behaviors that could signal an impending episode, like a psychotic break, and be ready to take steps to guard the safety of the patient, as well as everyone else on the unit.

A forensic mental health nurse also has to be alert to the side effects and interactions of psychotropic drugs, and be willing to approach the unit psychiatrists about their observations. They have to chart everything: medication, vital signs, behaviors and a patient's daily schedule. A good nurse of any kind is worth his or her weight in solid platinum.

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