What is Mental Health Nursing?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 24 November 2019
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Mental health nursing, also known as psychiatric nursing, is a branch of nursing practice which focuses on the care of people with mental illness, psychological disorders, and emotional distress. Nurses in this field receive nursing training which is supplemented by training in psychology and the administration of psychiatric care. Employment in this field is varied, with mental health nurses working in hospitals, residential treatment facilities, schools, and clinics at varying rates of pay.

The history of mental health nursing began in the 1800s, when compassionate individuals began to suggest that residential facilities for the mentally ill should include nursing services. The level of training for early psychiatric nurses was quite varied, and many practices in residential facilities were brutal when compared to modern approaches to psychological distress. As understanding of mental health and appropriate treatment evolved in the 20th century, mental health nurses were often at the forefront of developing more compassionate, productive, and holistic treatment approaches to psychological disorders.

A career in mental health nursing usually starts with nursing school. After receiving a nursing degree, the student takes additional courses in psychiatric nursing, and interns in facilities which provide psychiatric care. Most psychiatric nurses pursue board certification with a professional organization so that they are more employable, and to establish a network of contacts. Board certification can also provide access to continuing education courses and advanced certifications in specific areas of mental health nursing, such as nursing for children and the elderly.


Mental health nurses know how to identify and treat a variety of mental illnesses. They are also involved in the early identification and prevention of psychiatric conditions. As part of a patient care team, a mental health nurse helps to development a treatment plan, monitors the progress of the patient, and establishes a relationship with the patient which is conducive to therapeutic treatment. Being able to build strong, trusting relationships with patients is a critical aspect of mental health nursing.

In addition to providing psychological care, a mental health nurse may also help a patient with routine needs, ranging from injury assessments to assistance with completing various tasks. Practitioners in this field work to maintain a high quality of life for their patients, recognizing that physical, emotional, and spiritual health are all important in medical care.

Working in mental health nursing can be very stressful and sometimes frustrating. This work can also be very rewarding, especially in cases where patients make dramatic progress. Patience, compassion, and a genuine interest in psychology are all useful traits to bring to psychiatric nursing.


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Post 2

@rjh - I'm not a mental health nurse myself, but my roommate is. I can tell you from experience that yes, it does look to be extremely stressful but I know she wouldn't change it for anything in the world. I guess there's upsides and downsides to any job, but I'd imagine it's one of the most emotionally fulfilling jobs there are. I think that's what would allow you to handle the stress: the joy of knowing you're able to help people in their time of need.

That being said, I think it takes a special kind of person to be a nurse.

Post 1

I'm considering undergoing mental health nursing training but I'm unsure if it's the right career for me. I keep thinking that it could be more stressful than I'm able to handle. Does anyone have any advice?

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