Mental Health Nurse

The Mental Health Nurse provides a critical role in the delivery of health care services related to Mental Health. As experts in the assessment of patients in order to diagnose and treat mental and emotional health disorders, the Mental Health Nurse acts as one of the primary care givers for Mental Health patients.

There are two distinct levels of Mental Health nursing basic and advanced. As you gain more experience and education as a Mental Health nurse, your job expectations will also change and grow. For many who are undergoing a Mental Health crisis the establishment of patient rapport is absolutely key and the sooner this happens as they enter into the Healthcare system the better.

The Mental Health Nurse is often the first point of contact by a care provider with the client and so they have an opportunity to establish a relationship with the client right away so the client can begin to feel safe and comfortable as they grow through the incredibly vulnerable process of healing during a Mental Health crisis.

The basic level of Mental Health or Psychiatric nursing involves working with communities, groups, families and individuals in the assessment of emotional and mental health needs, the diagnoses of disorders and the planning and implementation of health interventions. Once a plan has been implemented the Mental Health nurse will periodically review the success of any interventions or other healthcare plans to ensure efficacy. The goal of Mental Health nursing is to restore, promote and maintain optimal mental and emotional health.

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The basic level Mental Health Nurse will provide services that include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Assessment of Mental Health needs for individuals, groups and communities
  • Diagnoses of Mental and Emotional Health disorders
  • Planning of Mental Health interventions
  • Careful implementation of Mental Health plans and interventions
  • Thoughtful review of implemented plans and interventions to measure effectiveness

At the advanced level of Mental Health nursing a registered nurse will have obtained a masters or doctoral degree within the specialty of Psychiatric or Mental Health nursing. This can occur at the Nurse Specialist or Nurse Practitioner level as well. If you wish to have additional specialization you can choose to become certified to help with a variety of specialties in Mental Health nursing such as Children, Adults, Adolescents or Geriatric Mental Health Nursing. At the advanced level, a Mental Health Nurse will perform all the previous duties plus act as a primary care provider in Mental Health. In some states a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse may be allowed to prescribe medications.
The Advanced level Mental Health Nurse will provide services that include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Specializing in Mental Health care for a specific sub-section of the population
  • Acting as a Mental Health education resource for their community
  • Prescribing Psychiatric medication in some states
  • Acting as a primary care provider for Mental Health services

Education to Join the Workforce

At the basic level of Mental Health Nursing, the required education is a Associate’s degree in Nursing and the appropriate certification or licensure depending on the state in which the Mental Health Nurse is working.

At the advanced level of Mental Health Nursing, the Registered Nurse, Nurse Specialist or Nurse Practitioner has completed a Master or Doctoral degree in Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing from an accredited school and completed the necessary steps towards licensure or certification depending on their state.

Mental Health Nurse as a Service to Society

There are few times in one’s life where you will be so vulnerable and in need of delicate and carefully considered treatment as when one experiences a Mental Health crisis. By being the first point of contact by a care provider it is the Mental Health Nurse who sets the tone for the experience of the patient. With kindness, open caring attention, professional boundaries, great communication skills and establishing rapport right away, the Mental Health Nurse does a tremendous service to the patient by establishing that they are in a safe and healing environment. The experience of the patient with an Advanced level Mental Health Nurse as a primary caregiver is even more powerful and can literally change the life of the person forever.


Society has changed tremendously since the days of the mental institution. With the advent of Psychiatric drugs and the Mental Health Nurse profession a new era of specialized direct care of those suffering from Mental Health crises or chronic conditions was born. Society greatly benefits from the empathy and care provided to patients in Mental Healthcare. By the correct combination of assessment, diagnoses and the appropriate intervention, those suffering from chronic or acute mental health crises can find great relief and healing through the services provided by a Mental Health Nurse. Society is a much better and healthier place due to the day to day services provided by the Mental Health Nurse.

Salary Potential for Clinical Mental Health Counselors

The median yearly salary for a Mental Health nurse at the basic level for Nurses holding an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree and appropriate certification and licensure at the RN level is $64,900 according the Bureau of Labor and Statistics1.

At the advanced level a psychiatric-mental health nurse (APRN-PMH) level the national annual salary range is between $50,000 and $70,000 although one can earn more in some organizations and localities.

Next Steps

The first step you will need to take to begin your journey towards becoming a Mental Health Nurse is to earn you Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree in Nursing. Once you have completed your degree program you will need to complete your state’s required certification or licensure process which will vary from state to state.

If you wish to become an advanced level Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse, you will want to then go on to complete your Master or Doctoral degree in Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing. After completing your Masters of Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing you will need to contact your state’s Nursing or Healthcare licensing body and determine your state’s requirements for advanced licensure as they vary from state to state. This will usually involve some amount of supervised clinical experience.

Once you have completed all the pre-requisites you can take your licensure or certification exams if your state requires them. The first step to take is to find a school that has a program that fits your educational needs and plays to your natural strengths. By finding an excellent Nursing program, you will be taking your first step on your journey toward becoming a Mental Health Nurse or Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse.