Mental health nurse: job description

Mental health nurse: job description

Mental health nurses are responsible for planning and providing support and medical and nursing care to people who have a range of mental health issues.
Mental health nurses support people with issues ranging from anxiety and depression to personality and eating disorders or addiction to drugs or alcohol.

What does a mental health nurse do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Mental health nurses work as part of a team of professional and medical staff that includes doctors, social workers, therapists and psychiatrists. They work in a range of settings, including hospitals and people's homes.

They support people with issues ranging from anxiety and depression to personality and eating disorders or addiction to drugs or alcohol.

Mental health nurses may specialise in working with a particular group, for example young people or offenders.

Typical duties of the job include:

  • assessing and planning nursing care requirements
  • organising workloads
  • visiting patients at home
  • building relationships with, reassuring, listening and talking to patients
  • combating stigma and helping patients and their families deal with it
  • administering medication
  • agreeing and reviewing care plans and monitoring progress
  • giving advice and arranging support for patients, relatives and carers
  • liaising with doctors, social workers and other professionals
  • assessing treatment success at case conferences and meetings
  • writing and updating patient records
  • encouraging patients to take part in therapeutic activities such as art and role play

Shift work or on-call rotas can sometimes be part of the job.

Typical employers of mental health nurses

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

A mental health nurse working in a hospital could be based in a psychiatric intensive care unit, psychiatric ward, outpatients unit or specialist unit focused on a particular issue, such as eating disorders.

Vacancies appear online, in newspapers, on the NHS jobs website and publications such as Nursing Times and Nursing Standard.

Qualifications and training required

The main route into qualifying as a nurse is to take a nursing degree in one of the four nursing specialisms: adult nursing, children's nursing, learning disability nursing or mental health nursing. Some degree courses cover two of these fields, and are known as 'dual field' degrees. Most nursing degree courses are three years long, with the exception of dual field degrees and nursing degrees in Scotland. Nursing degree courses provide a mix of formal teaching and practical experience.

You apply for full-time undergraduate nursing degrees through UCAS. Application criteria vary but you are likely to need at least 2 (more often 3) A levels or equivalent qualifications, plus a minimum of 5 GCSEs at grade C (equivalent to grade 4) including English, maths and a science (usually biology).

Graduates in a relevant subject such as life, health, biological or social sciences can qualify via a shortened two-year postgraduate course. The recognition process for your first degree is known as APEL (accreditation of prior experiential learning). You can find out more about accelerated nursing courses for graduates from UCAS and the NHS health careers website. You will need to check directly with institutions to find out if your degree course is acceptable for entry.

Nursing degree apprenticeships are now offered by a small number of NHS organisations. They are similar to nursing degrees in that they involve a mix of academic study and placements, but they are employer-led rather than being led by universities. Nursing degree apprentices are released by their employers to undertake academic study at degree level on a part-time basis, and also train through a series of practice placements. Level 3 qualifications (that is, A level or equivalent) are usually required, as the apprenticeship is at degree level. You can look for nursing degree apprenticeships on the NHS jobs website or the government's apprenticeship search. Applicants who have completed a nursing associate apprenticeship will be able to finish a nursing degree apprenticeship in a shorter period of time than other candidates, as the nursing associate apprenticeship will count towards it.

The nursing associate apprenticeship is a two-year training programme that is being trialled from 2018. Nursing associates undertake academic learning one day a week and work-based learning in a variety of settings the rest of the week. You need to have GSCEs in maths and English at grade 9 to 4 (A to C) or equivalent to apply. More information about nursing associate apprenticeships is available from the NHS health careers website.

All nurses working in the UK must be registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC). When students complete their nursing degrees, their universities pass on their details to the NMC, which then gets in touch to let them know how to create an online account and apply for registration. There is a fee of £120 for this. Nurses are required to renew their registration and pay the registration fee each year, and must revalidate their registration every three years. In order to revalidate registration, nurses must have completed a minimum of 35 hours continuing professional development (CPD) and 450 hours registered practice over three years.

Nurse First, a pilot two-year fast-track programme for graduates who want to enter nursing, has recently been launched by NHS England, and combines hands-on experience and training with an educational course. The scheme's initial focus is training mental health and learning disability nurses.

Key skills for mental health nurses

  • Good health and fitness
  • The ability to empathise with people
  • Good understanding of the theories of mental health and illness
  • Excellent teamwork skills
  • Verbal and written communication skills
  • Resilience
  • Stamina
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