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What Skills do I need to be a Mental Health Nurse?

21st May 21

Becoming a mental health nurse is a testing but rewarding career aspiration. Their sole focus is supporting the psychological and emotional well-being of anyone with on going mental health issues or illnesses.

They work closely with a multidisciplinary team of doctors, other nurses, social workers, support workers, therapists and psychiatrists. They work in a variety of settings including hospitals, individual’s homes, health centres and GP Practices.

The role of the mental health nurse is entirely dependent on their client’s needs. Mental health nurses need to build effective relationships with people who use their services, as well as their support network. They may start their day by helping someone administer their medication correctly, then go on advising another client of relevant therapies.

Mental health nurses need to possess a thorough understanding of all common mental health issues and how to support individuals with challenges. They need to remain calm under pressure and capable of defusing any situations that the client may be overwhelmed by.

Working with a diverse range of individuals with complex needs can make for a more challenging job role at times. But you will be making a significant and lasting difference to the lives of people you support, should you choose to pursue a career in it.

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Role and Responsibilities of a Mental Health Nurse

One in four people in the UK will display signs of a mental health issue of some kind every year, recent studies have shown. One in six people in England reports a common mental health issue every single week, such as depression and anxiety.

The primary role of a mental health nurse is to support someone who is struggling with their mental health on the road to recovery. As a mental health nurse, you would be working with a team of professionals to provide support and basic care typically outlined in a clients care plan.

A compiled list of the daily duties of a mental health nurse can include:

  • Assessing and planning nursing care requirements
  • Organising workloads
  • Visiting patients at home
  • Helping patients and their families overcome the stigma attached to mental health
  • Administering medication
  • Liaising with doctors, social workers and other professionals
  • Assessing treatment success at case reviews and meetings
  • Writing and updating client records
  • Encouraging patients to take part in therapeutic activities such as art and role play

You could be employed by a range of people or places, including:

  • The NHS
  • General, psychiatric and secure hospitals
  • Residential and nursing homes
  • Community and rehabilitation units
  • Special units within prisons

A mental health nurse could also specialise in working with a specific need or challenge. This can include an intensive care unit, psychiatric ward, outpatient’s unit or specialised unit focused on a particular issue, such as eating disorders.

What skills do I need to be a mental health nurse

Preferred Skills for Mental Health Nurses

To have a successful career as a mental health nurse, you do need to possess certain abilities, skills, knowledge and qualities. These will help you to effectively carry out the objectives, purpose and obligations of your role.

Personal Characteristics of a Good Mental Health Nurse

As a mental health nurse, you will be working with individuals. So compassion and patience are a must. You also need to be calm under pressure, especially in the event of a mental health crisis.

You will also need comprehensive knowledge of mental health illnesses and issues that your patients may be experiencing.

It is by no means an easy role, and therefore, you need to be committed with a good level of judgement. You need to have clear attention to detail and be able to spot changes in behaviour patterns and be decisive in your response.

Your communication skills need to be excellent. Not only your verbal skills to communicate with your patients and relatives but also your written communication skills too. Reports and case files must be maintained and written communication with other medical professionals including psychologists is common.

As a mental health nurse, you need to be resilient towards your work. The ability to separate yourself from your work and not getting too emotionally involved is an important skill to have. Being strong-willed and forward-thinking is essential to avoid a crisis or upsetting your patients. This combined with your psychosocial skills is the recipe for delivering the best possible care.

What skills do I need to be a Mental Health Nurse


To be a mental health nurse, you need to have an interest in Science, especially human science. Understanding how the brain works build the foundations for a successful career in mental health nursing.

You would need a degree in Nursing, some universities offer degree’s specifically in mental health nursing, although you can complete a nursing degree and then train to be a mental health nurse. You can start your career with a mental health nursing three year degree, or you can choose to specialise with a one year post-graduate masters.

Universities will often ask for specific A Level subjects when applying for a nursing degree. Preferred qualifications include Biology, Human Biology, Psychology or Sociology.

Most courses will also have a specified number of UCAS points for your application to be considered. Due to the high demand for places on nursing and mental health nursing degree courses, those requirements are high. Usually As or A*s.

If you have the relevant A Levels but not the grades you can support your application through volunteer work or relevant employment. Another alternative is to retake the A Level to get the desired grade.

If you lack the relevant A Levels, an Access to Higher Education Diploma is a nationally recognised alternative. However, not all universities accept them so check with your preferred course provider before you enrol.

You will be awarded between 48 and 144 UCAS points based on your passing mark for an Access to HE Diploma. So the harder you work, the more points you’ll earn.

Additionally, the majority of universities will require at least a C (or a 4) Maths and English GCSE, or equivalent. A functional skills qualification is a recognised alternative to GCSEs. Again, not all universities recognise them so make sure you double-check.

What skills do I need to be a mental health nurse

Start learning today

If you are reading this and thinking that you would like to pursue a career in mental health nursing, learndirect can help you.

Written by a subject expert, our Access to Higher Education Diplomas are tailored to fit your specific subject needs. In terms of mental health nursing, there would be a few different courses that can lay the brickwork of your path.

An Access to HE Diploma in Social Science – Psychology and Sociology pathway will teach you the foundations of the socioeconomic factors within mental health.

An Access to HE Diploma in Social Science and Health – Biology pathway will provide you with a balanced view of Biological Science, Social Science and Healthcare topics to allow you to make the best decisions for your future.

An Access to HE Diploma in Health Professionals offers you an ample overview of the healthcare system. Following the completion of this diploma, you will be eligible to apply for a place on many healthcare-related undergraduate programs.

Finally, an Access to HE Diploma in Nursing is a brilliant way to improve your future career prospects, laying down the foundations in nursing. This diploma covers all aspects of nursing, including the physical health side of nursing.

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