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Mental health nursing: is it for you?

Mental health specialist nurses primarily concentrate on psychological and emotional health, providing support to clients who have conditions such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

The psychiatric specialisation is challenging, but the rewards are worth it, according to Rebecca Gibson, who has practised as a mental health nurse for over 20 years.

The ability to connect deeply with others and help guide them back to their best self is the greatest reward, according to Ms Gibson.

“I wanted the challenge that comes with helping those in a place of rock bottom return to a place of wellness and love.

“Seeing people move out of a desperate feeling of needing to die to a renewed sense of life is beautiful, and I’m proud to have been part of that many times.”
It is also the connections formed with patents that set the specialisation apart and makes mental health nursing special, explained Ms Gibson.

“I value true connections to other human beings from all walks of life; Connections beyond surface-level interactions.

“I love the truth of humanity, and that means the lows of this roller-coaster ride called life.”

As a sole practitioner in male correctional centres, Ms Gibson was tasked with assessing men who had committed heinous acts from a state of mental illness and disorder.

“I witnessed these men become mentally well again and then work through the emotional turmoil of their actions.

“I like to think I helped many of these men return to a place of being a loving human being with much to offer society on release.

“I love seeing patients in the community happy and healthy and enjoying life once again after I’ve cared for them at their worst period in life.”

What challenges do mental health nurses face?

Mental health nurses face many challenges in a system that lacks sufficient services and funding, said Ms Gibson.

“The system is buckling under the pressure of increasing rates of mental health issues and violence resulting from drug use and poor economic circumstances.

“Mental health nurses face an increased risk of being assaulted, injured, abused, threatened and intimidated.

“We are busy dealing with this increased risk, and that it makes it harder for us to practice in safe environments and to care for patients to the best of our ability.”

What’s a typical day like in mental health nursing?

There is no typical day in mental health nursing, said Ms Gibson, as every shift is different.

What can be expected, though, is paperwork to meet key performance indicator agreements, which Ms Gibson says often means less time with patients

“I’ve always worked in correctional centres or psychiatric emergency and intensive care.

“These environments have a daily occurrence of violence and abuse directed at staff or other patients.

“It’s a matter of always being mindful of the ward milieu and navigating the constant fluctuations of energy on the ward.

“A new patient admission can change everything.

“These environments require a high alert for violence and suicide attempts while trying to meet the daily needs of each patient.”

“This means working on a wellness plan to move to a less acute environment and a plan for being discharged safely home.”

If nurses are considering a psychiatric specialisation, there are certain qualities that mental health nurses need to be successful, according to Ms Gibson.

“You must have a clear understanding of who you are as a person.

“If you are someone quick to judge others or have a strong moral stance or religious beliefs that may impact on how you view other people, then it’s not the right environment or career for you.

“If you want to deeply connect to other human beings and strive to help everyone live their best and healthiest life, the mental health system needs you.

“Mental health can impact anyone at any time, and you should always treat your patients as though they were a loved one, or how you’d like to be treated when you’re in a bad place health-wise.

“Reserve the judgements for yourself and go into mental health nursing with wide-open eyes and a wide-open heart.”


Where do mental health nurses work?

Mental Health Nurses work across several clinical, service, correctional and forensic settings, including hospitals, community health centres, inpatient facilities and crisis intervention.

How to become a mental health nurse

An undergraduate degree in nursing enables nurses to register to work in mental health settings, but to practise as a specialist Mental Health Nurse, a postgraduate qualification is necessary.

On completion of a postgraduate qualification, nurses are eligible to apply to the Australian College of Mental Health Nurses to become a credentialed Mental Health Nurse.
 

What tasks and duties are typical in mental health nursing?

Mental health nurses work in a variety of settings, and their scope of practice is just as diverse. However, the following is a general list of common tasks and duties.

• Provide medical and some psychological support to patients who have mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
• Assist patients in distress to manage mental health symptoms and educate them on their condition.
• Advocate for patients to promote and protect their rights and enhance their psychological wellbeing.
• Deliver information and educational programs to those with mental health conditions, their families and other health professionals.

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Haley Williams

Haley Williams has a Bachelor of Communication in Journalism and over a decade of experience in the media, marketing and communications industries.

She is a widely published journalist with a particular interest in writing magazine features on parenting, health, fitness, nutrition and education.

Before becoming a freelance journalist, Haley worked as a writer for NeoLife (a worldwide nutrition company), News Limited and APN News & Media.

Haley also has extensive experience as an SEO Content Writer and Digital Marketing Strategist.