As a mental health nurse you'll play an important role helping patients and will need to show empathy along with excellent observational skills
Mental health nurses provide support to people suffering from various mental health conditions. The work involves helping the patient to recover from their illness or to come to terms with it in order to lead a positive life.
You can specialise in working with children or older people, or in a specific area such as eating disorders. Work is often carried out in multidisciplinary teams, liaising with psychiatrists, psychologists, occupational therapists, GPs, social workers and other health professionals.
As a registered mental health nurse (RMN), you may work with patients in a variety of settings including:
As a mental health nurse, your exact work will depend on the setting and specialist group you work with, but in general you'll be involved in:
In the community, the role may also involve:
Income data from Health Careers. Figures are intended as a guide only.
Working hours are typically 37.5 hours per week. This may include evenings, weekends and bank holidays. In residential and hospital settings, 24-hour care is usually required, meaning shift work is typical.
Nurses working in the community are more likely to have regular hours, although some carry out on-call duties for emergency situations.
To work as a mental health nurse in the UK, you need to be registered with the Nursing & Midwifery Council (NMC). To be eligible to register you must complete an accepted pre-registration nursing programme, run at an NMC approved educational institution (AEI). The nursing programmes can be taken in four disciplines including:
Courses typically last three years, with the first year spent studying common foundation modules that cover all branches of nursing and the last two specialising in your chosen area. Half of the programme is based in clinical practice, giving you direct experience of working with patients and families.
You may be able to get accreditation of prior learning (APL) if you have a degree in another health-related subject, such as life and medical science, social work or psychology. Up to 50% of the course can be accredited in this way, meaning it will be shorter than the standard three years.
Part-time courses are available if you want to work and study at the same time. These usually take five to six years to complete. If you're working in the NHS you may get support from your employer and help with funding and study leave. Details of all accepted programmes can be found at NMC Approved Programmes.
The NMC states that all nurses must meet their requirements of good health and good character. You'll also need to have a criminal records check, although having a criminal conviction or caution won't automatically bar you from working in the NHS.
The NHS provides funding to cover tuition fees for students who are UK residents. Check with your chosen institution to find out if your course is eligible for funding. You may also be entitled to a bursary to help with living costs. More information can be found at NHS Student Bursaries.
For bursary information if you are attending courses in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland see:
You will need to show:
Work experience will always be of use when applying for courses or jobs to show your interest and dedication to the profession. Voluntary work in a hospital or with a mental health charity, or community work will all be beneficial. Any other work experience that involves caring for others will also help.
The NHS employs the majority of mental health nurses. While some work is carried out in mental health and secure hospitals, the majority is based in the community in a variety of settings including:
Some mental health nurses also work in special units within prisons or for telephone helplines. Outside the NHS, leading employers include:
Some projects are jointly run by the NHS in partnership with social services, local authority departments or other agencies. Many posts offer the chance to work in a more specialist role with a particular group of clients or involving those with a specific mental health condition.
Look for job vacancies at:
You could also check the websites of medical charities and private healthcare companies.
Your registration with the Nursing & Midwifery Council (NMC) must be renewed every three years. To do this you need to show you have met revalidation requirements. These include completing 450 practice hours within the three years, which can be made up of providing care to patients, managing teams, teaching others or running a care service.
You'll also need to have done 35 hours of continuing professional development (CPD), including 20 hours of participatory learning, where you've interacted with at least one other professional. It can include attending conferences, training courses and events.
In addition, you'll also need to submit five pieces of practice-related feedback, five written reflective accounts, a reflective discussion and a health and character declaration, as well as having a professional indemnity arrangement. Find out more at NMC Revalidation.
In Scotland, all newly qualified nurses are entitled to participate in Flying Start NHS. This is a personal development programme aimed at building your confidence and supporting your learning in your first year of practice.
Post-registration specialist practitioner courses are available and usually last for one academic year, although some can be completed in a shorter time if credit is given for prior learning and experience. Courses cover topics such as clinical practice development and leadership.
Masters courses are also available and nurses are encouraged to continue with their education and development.
Career progression may involve you developing a specialism in an area such as alcohol or substance misuse, forensic psychology, psychotherapeutic interventions or working with offenders or children and young people.
There are also opportunities to move into educational roles, such as:
It's possible to join a unit or trust management team in an advisory or executive capacity, making decisions that directly affect patient or client welfare, including financial and staffing matters. In hospitals and residential provision, you can progress to posts such as nurse manager or nurse consultant, which may also open up opportunities to work in a more specialist role. For these positions, you're likely to need further qualifications, possibly to Masters level, plus relevant experience. In some cases, the more senior posts have less hands-on nursing responsibilities.
There are increasing opportunities in the private and independent healthcare sectors, or you may choose to move into roles in social services, the prison service, voluntary organisations, or residential nursing homes. There are also a variety of opportunities overseas for qualified and experienced UK nurses in a range of countries.