Around one-in-four people in the UK experiences a mental health problem each year and GPs reportedly spend a third of their time on mental health issues, treating everything from depression and dementia to personality disorders. If you’re interested in a career in mental health nursing, read on to discover the personal qualities and qualifications required, typical duties, and the career opportunities available.
Diverse work settings
Mental health nurses work in a diverse range of settings including hospitals (in psychiatric intensive care units, psychiatric wards, outpatients units or specialist units), the military and the community, such as GP surgeries, prisons, community health care centres and patients’ homes.
As well as treating patients, mental health nurses work closely with their families and carers, and are the central point in patient-focused multidisciplinary teams, which can include everyone from GPs and social workers to psychiatrists, psychologists, art therapists and occupational therapists.
The working life of a mental health nurse varies depending on the setting and the patients they see. While nurses working in a hospital might deal with tens of patients during a shift, mental health nurses based in the community are likely to treat fewer patients and offer more focused care, often visiting people in their own homes.
As a mental health nurse, you would support people who have conditions such as anxiety and depression, stress-related illnesses, personality disorders, eating disorders and drug and alcohol addiction.
Typical duties include: talking to patients about their problems and discussing the best way to plan and deliver their care; preparing and participating in group and/or one-to-one therapy sessions and encouraging patients to take part in art, drama or occupational therapy where appropriate; physical care, if the patient is too elderly or unwell to look after themselves; and administering medication to patients and monitoring the results.
You will also be called upon to support patients’ families and liaise with healthcare professionals, care workers and social workers, and prepare and maintain patient records and care plans.
Challenges and rewards of the role
Mental health nursing can be physically, mentally and emotionally demanding but offers huge rewards, including the chance to directly improve the lives of patients and their families.
‘People lose so much when they suffer from mental illness: jobs, relationships, physical health, even the ability to look after themselves. It’s incredibly satisfying to help someone get their life back, watch them regain their skills and give them hope and aspirations,’ says Christopher Dzikiti, Modern Matron for a mental health unit.
What qualifications do I need?
To become a mental health nurse you need to complete a pre-registration nursing degree or diploma accredited by the Nursing & Midwifery Council (NMC). Typically lasting three years, courses combine theoretical and practical training, with half your time spent on university study and the other half on supervised work placements in hospitals and the community.
You choose from four disciplines (children/adult/learning disability/mental health) before starting the course. In your first year, you study common foundation models that are relevant to all branches of nursing and then specialise in your chosen discipline.
Personality and skills required for the job
The therapeutic relationship – between the mental health nurse, the patient and their family – is key to a positive outcome, and good communication and listening skills, along with a compassionate and non-judgmental manner are required in order to establish trust quickly.
You must be able to respond to distressed patients in a calm and non-threatening manner and apply ‘de-escalation’ techniques to help people manage their emotions and behavior. A persuasive manner, with the ability to encourage patients to follow treatment plans, is also desirable. Regrettably there is still stigma associated to mental illness and part of the role is helping patients and families deal with this.
There is currently a shortage of mental health nurses in the UK, and with almost one-third of mental health nurses now aged over 50, a long-term strategy to recruit and train more is now needed. Xanax is not your usual benzodiazepine, it’s a triazolobenzodiazepine with an amazing potency. Interestingly enough, even at XanaxCost.com they prescribe Xanax 2 mg in containers of 50 pills… I mean that’s a very addictive drug, why not sell it in lesser amounts? Or maybe they just hope that all people are as reasonable as they expect them to be?
Once qualified, there are many opportunities to climb the career ladder. With experience you could progress to sister, ward manager or team leader, responsible for running a ward or team of nurses in the community, or go on to become matron or director of nursing.
You might also go on to work in a dedicated psychiatric unit, specialise in mental health for a particular group (such as children, adolescents or women), or go into a specialised field like transcultural psychiatry, looking at how mental disorders and their treatment can be influenced by cultural and ethnic factors.
With further study, you may be able to apply for the role of advanced nurse practitioner or clinical nurse specialist posts, which can lead to a position as a nurse consultant.