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What is a mental health nurse?

Barely a day seems to go past when mental health and mental disorders aren’t making headline news. In some cases, this is a sign that something positive is going on. Mental health has finally emerged from the shadows, no longer unmentionable even among family members.

Mental wellbeing is something we should never take for granted. It’s been estimated that around a quarter of people in the UK experience a mental health problem. People and organisations are now out there campaigning for better understanding and greater tolerance. They are also campaigning for continued investment in treatments, facilities and professional mental health practitioners.

What are mental disorders?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) mental health disorders, “Comprise a broad range of problems, with different symptoms. However, they are generally characterized by some combination of abnormal thoughts, emotions, behaviour and relationships with others. Examples include schizophrenia, depression, intellectual disabilities and disorders due to drug abuse.”

Why become a mental health nurse?

There are various reasons why a person may want to specialise in mental health nursing. This role can be very rewarding as you have the opportunity to help some of the most vulnerable in society. Though this profession can be quite challenging, mental health nurses are more likely to feel a sense of fulfilment as their everyday work is making a difference. Mental health nurses are also in very high demand, meaning that a job after qualifying is almost guaranteed.

How do I become a registered mental health nurse (RMN)?

To qualify as a mental health nurse, you will need to complete a university degree approved by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC). Alternatively, you can complete a degree apprenticeship supported by your employer. If you are already a general nurse, you can specialise in mental health nursing through a two-year conversion course.

What’s involved in working as a mental health nurse?

As a registered mental health nurse (RMN) it‘s your job to treat and support adults, young people and children facing complex and disturbing health challenges. These can leave them feeling stigmatised, discriminated against and even violated.

Working as an RMN is a vital, front-line job. RMNs account for about 12% of the nursing profession in the UK. And it’s a vocation full of challenge and great rewards. Many people with a mental health disorder remain undiagnosed and untreated. A range of therapies are now available that can make a difference to clients’ lives – and that’s where you come in.

As well as qualifications, there is a particular type of skill set you will need to become a mental health nurse. Skills and qualities that come in handy include:
• Interpersonal communication
• Initiative
• Good listener
• Able to offer advice
• Problem-solving

You will often have to think on your feet as the patients you work with will be unpredictable, so you will need to be adaptable, and able to work under pressure. The general role of a mental health nurse includes:
• Assessing patients and discussing their mental health conditions with them
• Providing treatment and ensuring medication is administered correctly
• Working to understand the source of patient illness
• Conducting one-on-one sessions
• Preparing and maintaining patient records
• Conducting risk assessments
• Updating family members on patient progress
• Ensuring all legal requirements are complied with

How much do mental health nurses get paid in the UK?

Fully qualified mental health nurses usually start on salaries of £25,655 to £31,534 on band 5 of the NHS pay scale. However, in the private sector, they could expect to earn more, depending on their agency pay rate. Nurses can progress to earn up to £47,127 – £53,219 in more senior positions.

Where would I work as a mental health nurse?

RMNs work in a variety of settings. These include care homes, local health centres, clients’ homes, and GP practices. You might also be employed in an NHS or private hospital, or even in the prison service. (26% of women and 16% of men in prison say they received treatment for a mental health problem1).

Working as an RMN in a hospital means you might be based in either a psychiatric unit, a specialist ward or an outpatients department. And your daily activities are likely to be focused on building relationships with your clients, their families and carers. Physical care will be part of the work, but it’s certainly not the only aspect of the job.

Many clients will be taking some medication to help relieve their condition, and you’ll have a role here too. You may also need to advise clients about physical and mental therapies, including role play, art and talking therapies.

If you would like to work as a registered mental health nurse with Thornbury and take advantage of our industry-leading pay rates and benefits package, please register here.


  1. Prison Reform Trust. Available at: http://www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk/WhatWeDo/Projectsresearch/Mentalhealth
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