As a mental health nurse you will support and care for people with a range of mental health issues, either in a hospital or community setting. Individuals may choose to work with a broad range of clients or instead specialise with a specific group, such as children, offenders, or those suffering from particular conditions like eating disorders. A career as a mental health nurse requires a wide range of skills and comes with its own distinct challenges and rewards, so individuals should understand as much as they can about their prospective career before entering the profession.

Becoming a mental health nurse

In order to become a mental health nurse, individuals must first complete an approved nursing degree or diploma prior to registering with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC). In order to be accepted for the course, you will need to pass background and health checks and usually require at least five GCSEs at A to C grade and two or three A levels – however entry criteria will vary based on the specific course and institution . If studied full-time, the nursing programme usually involves one year of foundation care modules, followed by two years of content focusing on mental health nursing. Part-time courses are also available, usually lasting between five and six years. 

Post-graduate degrees are not required in order to become a mental health nurse, but they may help your career progression by demonstrating to an employer that you are knowledgeable and passionate about your profession. It is also worth noting that if individuals already possess a health-related undergraduate degree they may be eligible to undertake a shortened nursing programme before starting their mental health career. Alternatively, if you feel that university study is not right for you, there may be apprenticeship opportunities available in mental health nursing. Check with your local NHS Trust to see if there are any job vacancies that allow you to take a more practical-focused entry route into a mental health nursing role. 

Challenging and rewarding

Like many other care roles, mental health nurses will need a broad skillset in order to deal with the day-to-day challenges of the role. 

Some useful skills for mental health nurses to have include:

• Empathy and a non-judgemental way of dealing with others
• Excellent communication skills to address concerns and explain treatments to patients and their loved ones
• The ability to remain calm in stressful situations
• Able to work as part of a team
• A confident and assertive manner, particularly when defending a client’s best interests

Even if you feel as though you already possess many of these skills, they are likely to be tested and developed while you work as a mental health nurse. Many of your clients will be suffering from a diverse range of conditions and you may have to deal with vulnerable individuals experiencing difficult moments in their life. 

However, aside from these challenges, mental health nurses have the opportunity to make a significant difference to their clients’ quality of life. There are also good opportunities for career development, with many nurses going onto become advanced nurse practitioners (ANP) or clinical nurse specialists (CNS). If you have the drive and passion to help others, a career as a mental health nurse could prove hugely rewarding.