What is a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse?

Staff Writer
Apr 4, 2022 | 1 min read

Mental health nurses, also referred to as psychiatric-mental health (PMH) nurses, advocate for those with mental health problems, psychiatric disorders, and co-occurring psychiatric and substance use disorders. After graduation, licensed nurses have the opportunity to pave a path to a rewarding career in PMH nursing. Here are six things you should know about PMH nursing before pursuing the specialty. 

6 Things You Should Know About PMH Nursing

1. What Does a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Do?

PMH nurses work double duty in this clinical nursing specialty, providing both physical and mental health care to a broad range of patients, in a variety of settings. These nurses work with children, teens, and adults of all ages. They are skilled in treating anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD, schizophrenia, and substance abuse, to name a few.

Mental health nurses educate patients, families, and communities to help them better understand that whole health includes mental health. They actively work to break the stigma associated with mental health care and treatment. PMH nurses assist patients with daily activities, manage medication and treatment plans, observe patient progress, consult with psychiatrists and other health professionals, and offer support to patients and their families.

PMH nursing practices include:

  • Assess patient status
  • Provide and coordinate care based on treatment and nursing care plans
  • Provide counseling and lead therapeutic groups
  • Give medication and assess for responses and side effects
  • Teach patients coping skills and self care
  • Provide health promotion and maintenance
  • Provide case management
  • Practice crisis intervention and stabilization
  • Educate patients, families, and communities

2. How Long Does it Take to Become a Psychiatric Nurse?

Nursing students are introduced to various disciplines of healthcare during their schooling and training. Many programs provide a rotation in PMH nursing that introduce students to the specialty and lets you see what work in the field entails. Volunteering in a setting that serves people with mental health issues can provide insight into working with these patients.

If you find that you enjoyed this section of your training, here are the steps to take to obtain a certification in PMH nursing, and is valid for five years:

  • Have an active RN license
  • Complete two years of practice as a full-time RN
  • Practice a minimum of 2,000 hours in a clinical PMH nursing environment practice within three years
  • Earn 30 hours of continuing education in PMH nursing within three years

3. What Skills Do You Need as a Mental Health Nurse?

Mental health nursing jobs demand significant empathy and require strong communication and problem-solving skills in order to build trusting relationships with patients and staff. Maintaining open communication and collaboration with other staff members to carry out intervention plans is essential to the job. Bringing with them a solid foundation of basic and behavioral sciences, PMH nurses teach problem-solving techniques to help patients feel more empowered in situations where they may feel they have little control.

For all nurses, but especially PMH nurses, there is a delicate balance between having compassion for a patient in crisis and becoming too emotionally attached. While it’s easy to invest too much of yourself, remember you are serving the therapeutic needs of the patient and emotional distance not only protects the patient but protects you.

Developing resilience and the ability to maintain some psychological distance from your work are critical skills for making this profession a sustainable career. The job takes incredible patience, flexibility, and careful listening. Some of your patients will test your resolve, but trusting in your education and soft skills, relying on your mentors and team, and staying educated will take you far.

4. Where Do Psychiatric Nurses Work?

Some PMH nurses work in a community capacity to deliver mental health services while others help individuals to accomplish daily tasks and improve their lives. PMH nurses work in settings that provide mental health treatment services and perform a variety of different duties, depending on the work environment. This results in a range of choices of occupational settings, including:

  • Hospitals
  • Specialty psychiatric or substance abuse hospitals
  • Clinics
  • Private practices
  • Community mental health centers
  • State and federal facilities (prisons and other agencies, including the court system)
  • Primary care
  • Academia
  • Telemedicine
  • Public health facilities
  • Forensic health settings
  • Substance use treatment programs
  • Nursing homes

5. How Do PMH Nurses Differ From Psychiatrists, Psychologists, and Social Workers?

It takes a team of PMH nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers to administer quality, comprehensive mental health care. The four specialists have some overlapping responsibilities, but they each vary in qualifications, education, and responsibilities.

Psychiatric-Mental Health (PMH) nurses are licensed registered nurses with a psychiatric specialty, who promote the wellbeing of their patients primarily through prevention and education. They examine, assess, educate, and support individuals and families with mental health or substance abuse issues.

Psychiatrists are physicians who specialize in the treatment of mental health and mood disorders as well as substance abuse issues. They are qualified to assess both the mental and physical aspects of psychological disorders, and they leverage both psychotherapy and pharmaceutical therapies for diagnosed medical conditions.

Psychologists hold a PhD or PsyD in the study of cognitive, emotional, and social processes as they relate to behavior. Unlike Psychiatrists who can prescribe medication, diagnose, or treat physical medical conditions, Psychologists perform psychological testing through observation and interpretation of an individual’s behavior as it relates to others and the environment. Therapies tend to focus on behavior and lifestyle interventions rather than pharmacological treatments.

Mental Health Social Workers have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in social work, typically with an emphasis in mental health. They work directly with clients and are trained to provide counseling to both individuals and families and collaborate with Psychologists and Psychiatrists to provide support and resources to those experiencing mental illnesses.

6. What is a Typical Mental Health Nurse Salary?

Due to the rising demand for their services, PMH nursing provides strong compensation. The pay scale depends on many factors, such as level of education, years of experience, size of the agency or hospital, and geographic location.

The average hourly pay for a Psychiatric Nurse (RN) $32.56.

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