Mental illnesses are more common, long-lasting and impactful than other health conditions. Just like treatment for our physical health, people can require support to cope and live with mental illness. And the nurses who specialise in this area of support are Registered Mental Health Nurses (RMNs).
All nurses have a responsibility to care for their patients, including safeguarding their mental wellbeing. However, Mental Health Nurses specifically work with individuals with mental health issues or illnesses.
When we talk about mental health, it’s in reference to our cognitive and emotional wellbeing. This is how we think, feel and behave. But this covers a range of conditions and feelings. Including individuals who are experiencing anxiety, psychosis or a personality disorder.
If you’re considering this career, it’s useful to gain an insight into the people and challenges you’ll be working with. It will give you a better understanding of what will be required of you in the role and enable you to prepare.
We’ve detailed more about what the role entails. As well as some of the common conditions these amazing nurses help their patients manage day to day.
What do Mental Health Nurses do?
As a Mental Health Nurse, you support your patients throughout their treatment and help them maintain a good quality of life. You could spend your days visiting patients in their homes, or work with them within inpatient facilities.
You’ll also collaborate with family members and other health care professionals to create care plans to best address individual needs. Their treatment may include counselling, talking therapies such as CBT, medication or other positive approaches to managing their conditions.
A big part of your role is ensuring that all parties involved are effectively communicating and working proactively together. You’ll take a person-centred approach to your patients' support while encouraging them to talk with their families about mental health. Moving past any feelings of guilt and shame is imperative to work through their challenges. Feeling supported by their family and friends is also very beneficial.
Not every patient will experience a full recovery. But with your help and that of others in the support system, they can improve and live life as independently as possible.
Who do Mental Health Nurses support?
Being a Mental Health Nurse is an undeniably challenging role. You work directly with people when they are mentally at their most vulnerable. This can manifest in many different ways and vary in levels of severity. Some of the more common mental health conditions you will support are:
We can all experience anxiety. But intense feelings of fear, panic and distress can sometimes overwhelm people and prevent them from doing everyday activities. And in many cases, these feelings are linked to anxiety disorders.
Anxiety disorders like phobias, panic or social anxiety disorders, are related conditions with their own set of unique symptoms. Though, one similarity is the extreme and enduring fear or apprehension about situations that aren’t threatening.
Individuals with these disorders can experience a range of emotional symptoms. From being jumpy and tense to restlessness, irritability, anticipating the worst outcomes and constantly watching for signs of danger.
Physical symptoms can be fairly regular ailments like an upset stomach, diarrhoea and frequently needing to urinate. To far more severe ones like shortness of breath, a racing heartbeat, headaches, fatigue or insomnia.
Not to be confused with occasionally feeling low, depression is a disorder that that can affect the individual’s mood for long periods of time. Depression is so common, it’s now listed as the predominant mental health problem worldwide.
It hinders your ability to go about your daily life, take interest in activities or feel pleasure. Individuals experiencing depression can often have feelings of guilt or poor self-worth. It can also disturb their sleep and appetite, which can leave them with minimal energy and poor concentration.
Episodes of depression are categorised as 'mild', 'moderate' or 'severe' and treatment/care provisions change in line with these needs.
Also known as a 'psychotic experience' or 'psychotic episode', psychosis is when an individual has a different perception or interpretation of reality.
These experiences could be hallucinations, delusions, disorganised thinking or speech, as it affects each individual differently. They may experience it only once, irregularly throughout their lives or live with it most of the time.
It can be a positive experience for some, for instance, when they see or hear loved ones who aren’t there. But others can find the experience frightening and distressing. Not just because of what they perceive to be real, but because they’re the only ones experiencing it.
Individuals with bipolar disorder have episodes that combine symptoms of both depression and mania. This is why it used to be referred to as ‘manic depression.’
It affects a person’s mood in that people can experience different ‘moods’ to extremes. They can feel extremely low and lethargic or high and overreactive. Unlike common mood swings, the extreme episodes individuals experience with bipolar disorder can last for weeks or months at a time.
A personality disorder is when a person behaves, feels, thinks or relates to others in a very dissimilar way to the average person.
There are various types of personality disorder, which are grouped into three categories:
- emotional or impulsive
Currently, psychiatrists identify 10 types of disorders within these categories. These range from Borderline to Paranoid, Dependant, Histrionic and Antisocial. And the symptoms vary depending on which one an individual is experiencing. They could be anything from a disturbed way of thinking to uncontrollable anger or emotions.
People requiring Acute Mental Health Care
Anyone requiring acute mental health care is typically experiencing significant and distressing symptoms of a mental health condition. It may be their first experience of mental ill-health, a repeat episode or their symptoms of an enduring disorder have worsened. In these instances, the individual requires immediate treatment and care.
What skills do you need?
It takes a certain type of person to be able to work as a Mental Health Nurse. Helping people manage and overcome their challenges is undeniably rewarding. But you’ll also be dealing with people going through some incredibly difficult and distressing experiences.
This could include occasions where they are having thoughts about ending their own lives or trying to self-harm. This can affect you emotionally and mentally long term if you don’t have the right coping mechanisms in place.
To be a Mental Health Nurse, you’ll need to be caring, empathetic and non-judgemental of other people’s circumstances. Being in tune with peoples’ personalities and needs is also essential for spotting triggers or warning signs of an episode.
When you face difficult situations, you’ll need to be able to think on your feet to solve problems and diffuse situations. You’ll also need to safeguard your patient’s dignity and treat them with respect at all times.
Get Started with an Online Course
Aside from these skills, you’ll need a good knowledge of mental health issues and how to approach them.
You can start to build on this knowledge by studying courses in mental health. If you’re ready to move towards becoming a Mental Health Nurse, there are courses that can help you progress to university.
An Access to Higher Education Diploma (Nursing) can help you enrol onto a nursing undergraduate degree without A Level qualifications. It covers important topics like the responsibilities of a Registered Nurse, approaches to health and the history of the NHS.
You’ll also get an introduction to psychology and explore the brain & nervous system. All of which helps to prepare you to study Mental Health Nursing at university.
learndirect is the leading UK distance learning provider. With many online courses that enable you to pursue your career goals. Find out more about how our Access to HE Diploma (Nursing) can help you become a Mental Health Nurse below.