Mental Health Nurse

The Job and What's Involved

Around one adult in six suffers from some form of mental illness at some time in their lives. Mental health nurses are specially trained to help such people come to terms with their problems and cope with everyday life. Patients, usually known as clients, can be any age, and may have issues ranging from anxiety and stress-related illnesses to personality disorders, eating disorders and drug and alcohol dependency.

The work depends on the needs of individual clients but can include:

  • Working with GP's, psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, health visitors and other professionals to plan treatment and monitor progress.
  • Building trusting relationships with clients.
  • Involving clients' families and friends in support and advising them on coping with difficult situations.
  • Noticing and reacting to changes in a client's condition, for example spotting additional stress or tension and finding ways to diffuse it.
  • Providing physical care for those clients who need it.
  • Giving medication and using psychological therapies and counselling.
  • Using techniques like role play, art and drama to help clients express their feelings.
  • Liaising with social workers, police, charities and housing officers so clients have the support they need.

Mental health nurses in the National Health Service (NHS) work up to 37.5 hours a week. This may include on-call rotas to cover emergencies. Some jobs may involve shift work. Part-time and flexible hours are often available. Most mental health nurses work in the community in hostels, day centres, clients' homes and units like drug dependency units. Some work in hospitals. Take a look at these detailed checklists for nursing skills to gain even further insight into this type of job.

Starting salaries for trainees may be around £19,166 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are around 97,000 mental health nurses in the UK.

Most work for the NHS but there are also opportunities in the private healthcare sector and in social services teams.

Education and Training

Mental health nurses must hold a degree or diploma recognised by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), qualifying them in the mental health branch of nursing. For more general information about becoming a nurse, see Nurse. They must register with the NMC before they are allowed to practise.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Mental health nurses may take further training to allow them to specialise in fields such as drug and alcohol misuse or working with offenders.

Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Besides having general nursing skills, a mental health nurse should:

  • Have excellent communication and listening skills.
  • Be able gain clients' confidence and trust.
  • Be good at teamwork and be able to work on their own initiative.
  • Be compassionate, sensitive and emotionally strong.
  • Be assertive with good motivation skills.

Your Long Term Prospects

Mental health nurses may apply for leadership roles with wider responsibilities, such as team leader, charge nurse or nurse consultant.

There may also be opportunities to move into nurse education, research, nurse management or general NHS management.

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Get Further Information

BMJ Careers Job Board Mental Health

NHS England: NHS Careers. PO Box 2311,
Bristol BS2 2ZX
Tel: 0845 606 0655

NHS Scotland: Careers and Opportunities in the NHS Scotland
Tel: 0845 601 4647

NHS Wales:

Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC),
23 Portland Place, London W1B 1PZ
Tel: 020 7637 7181

Royal College of Nursing (RCN),
20 Cavendish Square, London W1G 0RN
Tel: 020 7409 3333

Queens University of Belfast,
School of Nursing and Midwifery,
Medical Biology Centre
97 Lisburn Road, Belfast BT9 7BL
Tel: 028 9097 2233

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