Mental health nursing is one of the most challenging and complex areas of nursing in which to work. The NHS believes that as many as one in four people suffer from a mental health problem during their lives, which brings into sharp relief the sheer importance of mental health nurses.
A mental health nurse might help people overcome depression caused by unforeseen events in their lives, work as part of a drug or alcohol abuse team or help treat patients afflicted with broad range of mental health problems – anything from neuroses and personality disorders to psychoses. In short, these guys are pretty darn important.
Mental health nurses will usually be part of a team working to provide patient-centric and therapeutic treatment for those suffering from mental health problems. A huge part of a mental health nurse’s work will be building up a relationship of trust with their patients.
They will be involved in a wide range of treatment, such as medication, art, drama or occupational therapy, de-escalation techniques and CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) in order to help patients manage their mental illnesses.
This lot will try to assess and understand the needs of their patients, conduct risk assessments and create care plans.
Salary & benefits
At entry-level, an adult nurse can expect to earn around £21,000 a year. However, with more experience, salaries will increase to around £27,000 per annum. Specialist nurses usually earn between £25,000 and £34,000 a year.
In a senior position, nurses could begin to earn anywhere between £30,000 and £65,000 a year. Not bad, eh?
Unlike those who work in other nursing areas, mental health nurses tend to work in the community, which means that their hours are more regular and sociable.
However, those working in hospitals will need to be more flexible with their time, as working hours tend to be long, irregular and unsociable. Mental health nurses working in this environment tend to work in accordance with planned shift patterns. However, these are subject to last-minute changes or adjustments and nurses need to be prepared for on-call duty with little or no prior notice.
Although the entry requirements for nursing are set to undergo a complete change from September 2013 onwards, mental health nurses currently need to obtain a pre-registration diploma of higher education or degree in mental health nursing.
This takes three or four years to complete (including a foundation learning year and two or three years of specialist learning in mental health nursing). Mental health nurses also need to obtain membership from the Nursing & Midwifery Council (NMC).
Generally, mental health nurses must also have good communication skills, patience, emotional and mental strength, a non-judgemental approach, and high levels of self-motivation and confidence.
In addition, these nurses will be at the forefront of combatting the stigma surrounding mental illness, and helping their patients and families deal with it. They will need to be experts at diffusing tense moments that might escalate to violence and, of course, have a good understanding of the theories of mental health and illnesses.
Training & progression
Upon successful completion of pre-registration studies, nurses are required to register with the NMC and move into full-time work. Registration needs to be renewed once every three years, and is dependent on fulfilling continuing professional development requirements. Mental health nurses also need to attend training courses throughout their career in order to keep their skills fresh and up to date.