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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.”

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.

What qualifications do I need?

You need to have completed a university degree course in mental health nursing, approved by the Nursing and Midwifery Council, or a degree apprenticeship supported by your employer. If you’re already a registered nurse, then you could become an RMN through an 18-month conversion course.

What would I do 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 around 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.

Find out our requirements for a mental health nurse here.


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