What is a mental health nurse practitioner?

There are two main professions that interact to provide support to mentally ill people through the healthcare system. Psychologists research mental illness and diagnose it in individual patients, devising care plans and providing some forms of therapy. Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) provide day-to-day care for patients and focus on the work involved in helping them to get better. This type of nursing is full of challenges but can be really rewarding – so what exactly does it involve?


A mental health nurse practitioner starts off like any other nurse by getting an RN or ASN qualification and working with general patients before taking an MSN degree with a focus on psychiatric nursing. They acquire formal clinical experience under supervision and often do additional work with mentally ill people in the voluntary sector before beginning to practice in their new profession. They require special licenses that have to be kept up to date, with a requirement for ongoing study assuring that they stay on top of new developments in the sector and maintain their expertise. Like other areas of nursing, this is a field in which it’s common to keep on taking further qualifications throughout working life.


PMHNPs have a variety of responsibilities that vary depending on their level of experience. They are usually responsible for the day-to-day care of patients and for prescribing medication, as well as for dispensing it in residential environments. Senior psychiatric nurses do some diagnostic work and provide psychotherapy, and also oversee some aspects of testing and interpret tests. Perhaps most importantly, they build up relationships with long-term patients both in institutions and in the community. Because patients with severe mental illnesses often experience social isolation, these relationships can be very important to their quality of life and, where possible, their chance of recovery.


Psychiatric nurses work in a variety of different roles wherever mental health care is provided. Many choose to specialize after getting established in their careers, and work with specific patient groups such as children or elderly people. Some specialize in supporting patients with particular types of illness, with dementia care a rapidly growing specialty at present due to the aging population. They often work in partnership with psychiatrists but can also work independently, especially in long-term community care facilities such as addiction centers. Some work in hospitals or clinics, and others engage in various forms of community outreach. Some even provide one-to-one care in order to make it possible for patients who are not a danger to themselves or others but struggle with self-care to remain in their homes and retain a degree of independence.

Mental health nurses are in high demand and there are always job opportunities to be found. Although they are licensed by state, it’s relatively easy for them to move around and their qualifications are useful anywhere in the country. If you’re looking for a career that will challenge and inspire you while providing a new experience every day, this could be for you.

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