Working as a mental health nurse, you will help your patients recover from their mental health issues or illnesses. This can be in a hospital setting – such as a psychiatric ward, or in the community.
A big part of your role will be building trusting relationships between you and those you support. This can be difficult as some mental illnesses can make building any kind of relationship hard. Especially with someone outside of their immediate family or support group.
You will work with the individuals, family members and other health care professionals to put together the best care plan for that person’s needs.
Mental health nurses form part of a multidisciplinary team designed to provide individuals the best chances of recovery. This includes working with GPs, psychologists, social workers, psychiatrists and healthcare assistants.
You will work with the patient and their support group to overcome their challenges. This can include negative feelings about the impact their circumstances have had on others. Feelings of guilt or shame aren’t uncommon.
Helping them to feel comfortable with who they are and even discuss their experiences openly can help their recovery. It can also help to bridge the gap between family and friends who may not fully understand what they have been through.
Your role will be ultimately to help them feel ready and capable to live a happy, positive and independent life.
To become a mental health nurse, you’ll need a mental health nursing degree. This is different to a standard nursing degree. A nursing degree will not allow you to work as a mental health nurse without additional training or study.
The good news is mental health nursing degrees are offered by 122 universities in the UK, compared to 87 for standard nursing.
Check your chosen course is approved by the Nursing and Midwifery Council before you enrol. If not you may not be able to practice as a registered nurse.
To enrol on to a mental health nursing degree you’ll need to meet the minimum course requirements. These can vary slightly depending on the university but generally, these include:
- 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
If you don’t have these qualifications there are options available to you. Firstly you can study the relevant GCSEs you’re lacking.
If it’s just maths and English you’re lacking, an alternative are the Functional Skills qualifications. These focus just on the practical aspects of the subjects and so you can qualify within a few weeks.
Most universities accept Functional Skills qualifications but check before you apply.
If you don’t have the relevant A Levels you can study them online. Each course can take up to a year to complete, so you may need to factor that into your plans.
Is Mental Health Nursing right for Me?
Mental health nursing can be a challenging role due to dealing with patients who are often at their most vulnerable and unwell.
Your patients may experience extreme mania or depression making engaging with them difficult. They could have thoughts of ending their own life and even a plan to act on it. This can turn a routine visit into crisis intervention, turning your entire day upside down.
You need to be calm under pressure, a clear thinker and be able to respond to a rapidly changing situation in a professional way.
And protect your own mental health in the process.
Problem-solving, strong interpersonal communication skills, observational skills and good judgement are also essential skills for mental health nurses.
Perhaps most importantly of all, you need to possess empathy and a strong desire to help others. Individuals with mental health issues and illnesses face considerable stigma so treating them with dignity can make a real difference.
If you work for the NHS you will also be expected to uphold the NHS values:
- Working together for patients. Patients come first in everything we do
- Respect and dignity. We value every person – whether patient, their families or carers, or staff – as an individual, respect their aspirations and commitments in life, and seek to understand their priorities, needs, abilities and limits
- Commitment to quality of care. We earn the trust placed in us by insisting on quality and striving to get the basics of quality of care – safety, effectiveness and patient experience right every time
- Compassion. We ensure that compassion is central to the care we provide and respond with humanity and kindness to each person’s pain, distress, anxiety or need
- Improving lives. We strive to improve health and wellbeing and people’s experiences of the NHS
- Everyone counts. We maximise our resources for the benefit of the whole community and make sure nobody is excluded, discriminated against or left behind.
Everyone from doctors to porters are expected to uphold these values so you need to be confident that you can make that commitment.
As you progress through your career, you will get the opportunity to specialise. You will take on additional training so you can work with and support a specific group or demographic. These include:
- Working with children
- Working with older people
- Working with individuals with substance misuse issues
- Talking therapies
- Working with prisons and ex-offenders
Specialising doesn’t preclude you from changing specialisms. In fact, nurses are encouraged to train and develop their skills, moving between teams. This allows you to bring all of your accumulated experience to a challenge.
As your career progresses you can also move towards becoming a nurse leader or nurse educator. Either leading teams of mental health nurses or training the next generation. Both are rewarding roles in their own way.
Start your Studies
Whichever direction you see your career progressing, the first step is getting the qualifications you need to make it on to your mental health nursing degree.
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