What is a mental health nurse?
A mental health nurse is someone who has trained and qualified as a nurse. To do this you need to take a degree course as an RMN - Registered Mental Nurse. Previously, nurses could also become qualified through a diploma.
The RMN qualification differs to the RGN qualification (Registered General Nurse) but does not a mental nurse is less, or more, qualified than a general nurse. Once qualified, like all nurses and midwives, you need to register with the nursing and midwifery council (NMC) to obtain your PIN number. You are then ready to search for nursing jobs and be employed as a qualified nurse.
Mental health nurses may find themselves working in hospitals, prisons, the community or care homes, working with adults, children or the elderly. You may be in an acute setting, or in a social care role. While the basic skills required of all mental health nurses are broadly similar (good communication and listening skills, and an understanding of symptoms, conditions and illnesses), each role will require considerably different specialist skills.
Talking therapies are a crucial part of mental health treatment, and are currently being given even greater status by the UK Government. But medication remains the most common form of treatment for mentally ill clients. As a mental health nurse you’ll learn about effective medication to help clients manage their illness.
The conditions a mental health nurse may be expected to treat range from dementia to schizophrenia, bi-polar disorders, psychoses, and issues arising from substance abuse - among other illnesses.
Mental health nursing jobs can be very challenging and extremely rewarding.
Working as a paid care assistant
Many nurses begin their career in nursing as an unqualified care assistant. This is a great, and often recommended, way to start a healthcare career. Not only can you see if nursing might be the job for you, but you will begin to get a feel for which direction you’d like to take your nursing career.
We have interviewed a few mental health nurses on Nurses.co.uk. One of them, Ben, explained how he first worked as a care assistant. "I started working part-time at a social services residential home at age 16 and continued in a part-time capacity throughout my twenties as I went through University. It gave me a great insight into what was required (in terms of being qualified) regarding patient management/expectations and the 'goings-on' of a psychiatric ward."
Interestingly, in the same interview, we suggested to Ben that mental health nursing was perceived as one of the more challenging specialisms and asked Ben if being an RMN is a particularly difficult nursing job? “It can be, just like any nursing job,” he explained. “But people that go into mental health nursing adapt very quickly to its demands. One realises very early on if you are suited to it, as with any discipline in nursing.”
Read our interview with Ben “My RMN job as a senior staff nurse”
Considering a degree in nursing
The two-year diploma course in nursing is being phased out. Within a year or so the only option will be the 3 year nursing degree course. There’s a mix of theoretical work and practical placement experience within wards as part of a nursing degree. Even as a nursing undergraduate looking to become an RMN, you’ll still have an opportunity to experience general adult nursing. It’s important you keep your options and ideas open, until you’re sure mental health nursing is for you. Likewise, if you’re reading this thinking general nursing is going to be your preference, keep mental health nursing in mind. It may actually be better suited to your skills set.
Specialising as a mental health nurse
OK, so you have your RMN degree, and you’ve got your NMC Pin number. You can now embark upon your career as a Registered Mental Nurse. What’s next? Well, if you haven’t yet done so, now is the time you need to think about your specialism.
There are hundreds of different kinds of mental health nursing jobs out there (have a look on Nurses.co.uk and you’ll see hundreds, if not thousands!)
Ask yourself some questions.
Do you want to work in a care home (nursing home) setting?
Would you like to work as part of a community care team, or within a hospital setting - private, independent or NHS?
Would you like to become a care manager, or study more?
What kinds of patients and clients would you like to be working with?
It’s now (right now!) that you could look at the areas of mental illness that people suffer from. What is it about schizophrenia that interest you? Or dementia? Or any of the autistic spectrum disorders, or forensic nursing..... the choice is yours! It will also serve you well to browse the type of mental health nursing jobs available.