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What is a Mental Health Nurse?

What is a Mental Health Nurse?
Photo: What is a Mental Health Nurse?
A mental health nurse cares for patients who are suffering from a mental illness, dysfunction or mental disorder.  Not all patients that a mental health nurse treats are mentally ill though; they may be suffering from stress or emotional difficulties in their own home, in a nursing home or in hospital.

Being a mental health nurse can be very rewarding, but it can be a stressful and emotionally draining job as well.  As well as working full-time, you can also work part-time or casually in this field.  Registered nurses can work in the mental health field and they can also increase their qualifications by undertaking further study in this field for either a graduate diploma or Masters degree or applying to become a credentialed mental health nurse.

Becoming a credentialed mental health nurse means your experience in this field is recognised and you may use the title of Mental Health Nurse (MHN).  Your title will expire after three years, when you will have to reapply.
A mental health nurse may treat patients who are suffering from depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or a psychosis.  The patients may be in a special locked psychiatric unit, a hospital, a nursing home or out in the community.

The duties of a mental health nurse may include assessing patients who are mentally ill, observation, helping patients take part in activities, giving medication, observing if the medication seems to be working, assisting in behaviour modification programs or visiting patients who are at home but still need the services of a mental health nurse.

It’s important that a mental health nurse has good judgment, as they will have to exercise it in a variety of different settings.  For example, if it’s lunchtime and a nurse gives the patient their lunch, even though the mentally ill patient has said they don’t want any, the nurse may witness the patient fling the lunch tray across the room.

A mental health nurse may have to undertake family liaison duties, where they give support to both the patient and the patient’s family and help the patient’s family understand what the patient is going through and how well the treatment is working and if they will be able to come home.

Liaising with other health care providers may also be part of the job, to ensure that the patient gets the most appropriate treatment for their condition.

Related nursing occupations in the mental health field may include:  drug and alcohol nurse, child and adolescent mental health nurse, psychogeriatric care nurse and psychiatric rehabilitation nurse.

Mental health nursing can be a very satisfying career, and there are different fields a nurse can work in within the mental health sphere.  Since there are shortages in this field of nursing, the career options are great!  Whether you would be satisfied being a credentialed mental health nurse or would like to undertake further study at a graduate or Masters level, there is sure to be something in this field to suit you, if you’re interested in understanding your patients’ inner world.

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