A Comprehensive Guide to Careers in Mental Health Nursing

Careers in Mental Health Nursing: A Comprehensive Guide

Diversity is the backbone of life. Biodiversity is the engine behind the genetic mutations that powered evolutionary phenomena. The world is an interesting and complex weave of diverse cultures and history. Humanity’s progress into the information age is due to a diversity of minds, perspectives, and attitudes.

Yet with diversity of mind and body comes a diversity of illnesses to afflict them. For physical disability or illness, a nurse will often attend to the needs of patients in a doctor’s office or hospital. It stands to reason then that for mental illnesses, there are mental health nurses.

Careers in mental health nursing
Fig: Careers in mental health nursing

Mental health nurses are trained professionals dedicated to caring for those with debilitating mental illnesses. There are a range of mental health nursing courses that provide a broad scope of knowledge and a range of skills honed to take care of the people in our lives facing internal, invisible struggles.

Careers in Mental Health Nursing:

The job of a mental health nurse is fairly similar to that of a “regular” nurse. They provide for people who require ongoing care, however, mental nurses specialize in caring for patients suffering from conditions that affect both their physiology and psychology.

These patients can suffer from a range of conditions and often experience severe tangible repercussions due to their mental illness. They may suffer from psychosis that affects their ability to navigate the real world. Others may be afflicted with post-natal depression and unable to effectively care for themselves or their newborn.

Mental health nurses provide an invaluable service to those who need it and are proficient in a range of essential services.


As you can imagine, being a mental health nurse is a very rewarding, though taxing, job. The effort required to offer care to patients with these illnesses is substantial, and the altruism and genuine compassion for other people is nothing short of miraculous. However, the rewards gained through the knowledge that at the end of every day you’ve been an inherently valuable part of making someone’s quality of life better is priceless.

There are many duties that a mental health nurse takes charge of. Throughout the course of their careers, mental health nurses will be called on to fulfil multiple key activities that are essential to a patient’s ongoing care and support.

These include:

  • Patient Assessment: Using medical criteria and definitions to assess the specific care needs of the patient.
  • Observation: Take note of areas where the mental health nurse may be required to offer the patient assistance.
  • Patient Assistance: Helping patients deal with self-care and necessary tasks such as bathing, dressing, and ongoing wound care.
  • Administering Medicine: Mental health nurses will help patients with regular ongoing medication to manage their dosage and take the appropriate amount for their condition.
  • Monitoring Medication: Nurses will oversee the patient to ensure that the desired effects are taking place.
  • Behavior Modification: If a patient’s ongoing care requires certain exercises designed to modify their behavior in a manner conducive to their health (e.g. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, Exposure Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy).
  • Home Visits: Some mental illnesses trap patients in their homes, or make leaving home difficult (agoraphobia, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, psychosis, etc.) In these instances, mental health nurses can perform home visits to assist these extreme cases.

These services not only help with maintaining the patient’s quality of life, but can also serve to elevate it, and can even be life-saving.

A Diverse Role:

There are many specializations that a mental health nurse can diversify into. These roles allow mental health nurses to leverage their particular skills towards a specific demographic, and allow nurses to fulfil a particular niche within the range of those that need care. Mental health nurses can choose any of the following areas to focus their expertise:

Children and Adolescents:

Children who come from abusive, neglectful, or unstable home conditions can often suffer from mental illness but not be old enough or have the cognitive ability to recognize it. Some children may also suffer from congenital mental illnesses that place excessive strain on the parents to care for them.

Likewise, adolescents are struggling with enhanced, new, and unregulated thoughts and feelings that can cause significant strain on their quality of life and interpersonal relationships. In these instances, a mental health nurse can be of tremendous assistance not only to the patient but to their family.

Substance Use Disorder:

People suffering from Substance Use Disorder often experience symptoms that affect their desire to function or thrive in society. Combined with the stigma around addiction and people suffering from it, the added mental pain and pressure can cause patients with this disorder to

succumb more to their condition. Mental health nurses can offer day-to-day assistance in the treatment and care of patients with Substance Use Disorder, and with symptoms of withdrawal.

Eating Disorders:

Many people suffer from a variety of eating disorders. These patients often have trouble maintaining a sustainable diet and due to the effects of their disorder, may experience weakness, illness, intense fatigue, and other physical conditions that make it difficult to go about their lives. Mental health nurses working with these patients are vital to the maintenance of their diet, medication, and self-care.


Mental health nurses may carry out their duties alongside the law to assist with certain cases. They may also testify as to the mental health of either a victim or perpetrator.


Defense force personnel are often subjected to the most rigorous tests that humans can be subjected to. Being in an environment of constant danger, combat situations, dealing with mortal threats, defending yourself against attackers, and seeing people get killed and wounded all create an environment where mental health can steadily decline. Mental health nurses provide a deeply important service to those actively serving in their country’s defense force, and veterans dealing with PTSD and other symptoms of mental illness.

An Important Job for an Invisible Battle:

In recent years the conversation around mental illness has shifted to be far more constructive, understanding, and supportive. Although mental illness stigmas persist in society, they are far less prevalent and it is easier than ever to reach out for treatment. Where patients with mental illness require ongoing hospitalization, face intense difficulty leaving their home, or whose symptoms are too aggressive for an ill-equipped family to support effectively, a mental health nurse is not only helpful, they are a source of comfort, stability, and help.

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