What kind of people use mental health services?
Up to a third of the UK population are thought to suffer from some kind of mental health condition at some point in their lives, whether short term or long term. For some people, mental illness can be triggered by an event such as divorce, the death of someone close, birth, alcohol and drug abuse or changes in personal circumstances, including at work.
What will I do for people with mental health conditions?
As a mental health nurse, you will need to have a good knowledge of mental health and illness theories and how to apply them.
Your role is to build effective relationships with the people who use your services, and also with their relatives and carers. Your focus is on promoting and supporting their recovery and enabling them to have more involvement and control over their conditions. You might help one person to take their medication correctly while advising another about relevant therapies or social activities.
Success comes from being able to establish these trusting relationships quickly, to help individuals understand their situation and get the best possible outcome.
You will need to be aware of the legal context of your work and also be able to identify whether and when someone may be at risk of harming themselves or someone else.
Where will I work?
Mental health nurses can be based in hospitals or in the community, as this is where the majority of mental health care is given.
All nursing is about person-centred care, but this is especially true of mental health nursing. We manage, treat and care for patients anywhere: at home, in prison, in hospital … even under a bridge in some busy city.
Who will I work with?
Mental health nurses work with patients and their carers, and are the central point in patient-focused multidisciplinary teams. These teams can include everyone from psychiatrists and psychologists to GPs and social workers
Our team includes ward managers, nurses, psychologists and psychiatrists, and my budget is just over £2 million. I never imagined I’d be responsible for so much
What kind of jobs could I do?
Once you are a registered nurse, you can progress your career in any direction that takes your interest. The roles described here are just a few examples of what’s possible with this qualification.
Mental health nurses can become clinical leaders or specialists in a number of areas, with further experience and study.
You can specialise in mental health for particular groups such as children, adolescents or women. Watch our career in mental health nursing video.
Or you could opt for a specialised field like transcultural psychiatry, looking at how mental disorders and their treatment can be influenced by cultural and ethnic factors.
Another option is working with the police or the prison service.
I was the first female charge nurse to join a unit specialising in family therapy for adolescents considered at risk of offending. I loved it. Adolescents are exciting to work with: the right care can positively impact their future.
What kind of person makes a good mental health nurse?
You will need to have a warm, engaging personality and be able to show real empathy with service users and their individual circumstances. These circumstances include not only the mental illness itself but also the social stigma associated with it, which can be equally hard to overcome.
Thinking on your feet and staying calm are useful traits. Good observational skills will help you to identify when tension could be building up, so you can apply your interpersonal and psychosocial skills to defuse challenging situations and help people with mental health conditions manage their emotions and behaviour.
You will also need to be able to communicate effectively with service users, their carers and other members of multidisciplinary teams.
Like every branch of nursing, you need to be committed to learning and always keeping your skills and knowledge up to date.
What’s the best thing about mental health nursing?
It is immensely rewarding to watch someone with a mental health condition start to rebuild their life with your support. The feeling of being able to make a real difference to somebody is just as satisfying whether they suffer from a mental or a physical illness.
People lose so much when they suffer from mental illness. It’s incredibly satisfying to help someone get their life back, watch them regain their skills, give them hope and aspirations
The other thing that you may find appealing is that mental health nurses don’t normally wear uniforms. This helps break down the barrier between service users and nurses, letting you build an even closer relationship.
Is this for me?
Why not take our personality quiz and find out?
Read real stories from registered nurses for their views on what nursing is really like.