Like mental health nurses, psychiatric nurses plan and provide support, medical and nursing care for individuals experiencing mental health issues. But unlike mental health nurses, psychiatric nurses are typically stationed within and work solely with inpatients of mental health facilities. As such, it takes a certain set of skills to become a psychiatric nurse.
The reason psychiatric nurses work in this capacity is because they deal with patients experiencing more severe mental health disorders. This could be anything from psychosis and personality disorders to people requiring acute mental health care.
As a psychiatric nurse, the patients you’ll see will either be voluntarily seeking treatment or detained for their own safety. This would be in accordance to the Mental Health Act 1983. Where the individual has been identified as being at risk of harm to themselves or others.
Dealing with the more severe cases of mental ill-health has often painted psychiatric nursing as an unfavourable career. With many people believing you’d constantly be exposed to verbal abuse, violent and disturbing behaviour.
While that can occur, it isn’t a constant fixture of the job. Instead, you’ll regularly help patients in times of need overcome their challenges and manage their conditions. You’ll work with them as they face their fears and takes steps towards a place of improved mental wellbeing. Watching them as they make progress, which altogether is an incredibly humbling and inspiring experience.
Find out more about the role and whether it’s for you. Plus the skills and qualifications you need to become a psychiatric nurse below.
Is being a Psychiatric Nurse for me?
As a psychiatric nurse, you’ll generally be stationed on a ward in a mental health hospital. These vary depending on the severity of patient needs:
Acute ward - providing care with intensive medical and nursing support for patients in periods of acute mental illness.
Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) - specialist wards providing care, assessment and comprehensive treatment to individuals experiencing the most severe phase of a mental health disorder.
Rehabilitation ward – wards that help patients become more independent in preparation for living in the community.
Specialist wards – wards dedicated to caring for individuals with certain types of conditions or certain groups of people. These can be personality disorder units, forensic units for offenders with mental illnesses, mother and baby or young person units.
You’ll work as part of a multidisciplinary team designed to provide individuals the best chances of recovery. This often consists of a mixture of doctors, psychologists, social workers, psychiatrists and healthcare assistants.
Your focus where possible will be on providing person-centred care, putting the needs and goals of your patients first. Together, you’ll work to devise a plan to reach their goals and overcome their challenges. Helping them work through any negative feelings they have about themselves, their situation or the impact of their circumstances.
Your general duties will be wide-ranging. You’ll be tasked with administering medication and helping to manage any side effects, observing and evaluating patient progress. You will offer guidance, education, and support patients as they go about their day on the ward. Assisting them with general routines like grooming and bathing where needed.
A large part of your role will be offering interpersonal support to patients and their families. Combatting the stigma associated with your patients’ condition. Which helps them, their families and loved ones develop a greater understanding of what it is.
You will also admit patients into the ward and discharge them when they are ready to leave. Which after long periods of helping them improve and make progress is a highly rewarding element of the job.
The skills Psychiatric Nurses need
With the varied nature of responsibilities you’ll have, you’ll need to be confident in different and changing situations. When applying for roles, employers will want to see applicants with certain skills and character traits.
- Teamworking skills
- Strong problem-solving skills
- Physical fitness and strength
- Excellent communication skills
- Understanding of the theories of mental health and illness
- Able to switch off from your work outside of your working hours
- The ability to build trusting relationships with patients
- Emotional stability to handle high-stress environments
The Qualifications and Training required
To become a psychiatric nurse, you need to complete a mental health nursing degree that is approved by the Nursing and Midwifery Council. With the growing emphasis placed on providing mental health care, these degrees are now offered by 122 UK universities.
To meet the entry requirements for your mental health nursing degree, you’ll need:
- 5 GCSEs (minimum) at grade C (4) or above - including English, maths and a science
- 2 A Levels (minimum) – including biology or human biology. An A Level in psychology or sociology is also preferable. Other Level 3 qualifications are also accepted, such as an Access to Higher Education Diploma.
While your degree needs to cover mental health nursing, you can study one that is combined with other nursing specialisms. Allowing you to gain broader skills in adult nursing, children's nursing or caring for people with learning disabilities.
If you already have a degree in a related subject, you could opt for a shortened post-graduate nursing diploma. Nursing degree apprenticeships are also another option to gain your academic degree which combines study with hands-on training.
Aside from your degree, it’s recommended to obtain some form of experience relating to this type of care. As it will help you make sure it’s the right career choice for you.
Get Started with an Online Course
If the thought of becoming a psychiatric nurse appeals to you, learndirect can help. We have many online courses that enable you to explore the field of mental health care. So you can be more certain of your career choice before applying for your degree.
Our dedicated mental health faculty has numerous courses that will educate you on the realities of mental health. As well as the varying needs of those experiencing different issues and disorders and how best to meet them.
When it comes to gaining the qualifications that enable you to apply to university, we have those too. Whether it’s particular A Levels you need or a Level 3 alternative Access to Higher Education Diploma.
Our Access to Higher Education Diploma (Nursing) is an excellent starting point for your mental health nursing degree. Covering important topics like cell biology and the roles & responsibilities of the registered nurse. But also targeted topics like psychology, contrasting sociological perspectives on health, the brain and nervous system.
With this highly focussed content, it removes the need for multiple A Levels. There are also topics dedicated to equipping you with the study skills for university.
What’s more, the course is studied online and at your own pace. Allowing you to prepare for your mental health nursing degree without having to rearrange your current commitments.
Studying a course with learndirect also means you’ll receive professional tutor support. As well as the option to spread the cost of your learning.
If you’re ready to become a psychiatric nurse, click to view our Access to HE Diploma (Nursing) below.