How to become a mental health nurse
Begin your mental health nursing career
Any nurse can specialise in mental health with the right training.
- The first step is to complete a nursing qualification. You can do a two-year Diploma of Nursing to become an enrolled nurse, or a three-year Bachelor of Nursing or Bachelor of Nursing Science to become a registered nurse.
- Enrolled nurses can then continue their education with an Advanced Diploma of Nursing (Mental Health).
- Registered nurses can continue their education by studying a postgraduate course in mental health nursing, such as a graduate certificate, graduate diploma or masters degree. Depending on what you study, you may then meet the criteria to become a Credentialed Mental Health Nurse through the Australian College of Mental Health Nurses.
- Along the way, you may be required to pass certain screening checks, including a Working With Children Check and a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) Worker Check.
- You should also look out for industry training opportunities to increase your knowledge of mental health nursing.
What does a mental health nurse do?
Working alongside other health professionals such as doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers, mental health nurses provide support to patients suffering from mental illness or psychological distress. They may work in a hospital in inpatient or emergency care, in the community or in private practice.
Compassion and empathy are essential qualities for the role, as are good interpersonal and communication skills. Mental health nurses can advance their careers by specialising even further in areas of mental health such as drug and alcohol rehabilitation, child and adolescent mental health, or psychiatric care.
Duties and tasks
Common responsibilities for mental health nurses include:
- Assessing and observing patients with mental illness
- Providing counselling to patients and their families
- Helping patients set goals and plan their recovery
- Collaborating with healthcare teams for patient care
- Educating patients, their families and doctors about mental illness and treatment
- Helping patients access government and community support services
- Visiting patients at home for follow-up support
- Administering medications and treatment
- Advocating for patients’ rights
- Undertaking regular professional development
Australian College of Mental Health Nurses (ACMHN)
ACMHN is the peak professional organisation for mental health nurses in Australia. The ACMHN sets national standards of practice in mental health nursing and administers the credentialing system for Australia’s mental health nurses. Joining gives you access to industry journals, professional development resources and networking events.
Australian College of Nursing (ACN)
ACN is a professional nursing body that’s open to nurses in all settings and across all stages of their careers. The ACN offers a number of postgraduate and vocational training courses, including the CAN Transition to Practice Program. This course is designed to prepare newly qualified nurses for entry into the workforce.
Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA)
AHPRA sets the standards and policies that all registered health practitioners, including nurses, must meet.
Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF)
Representing over 300,000 nurses, midwives and assistant nurses across Australia, ANMF is Australia’s largest national union and professional nursing and midwifery organisation. ANMF offers its members opportunities for continued professional development in order to maintain their nursing registration each year.
International Council of Nurses (ICN)
ICN is a federation of over 130 national nurses’ associations representing 27 million nurses around the world. The ICN endeavours to advocate for quality nursing care for all, stable health policies globally and the advancement of nursing knowledge. The ICN publishes its own code of ethics that details the four principle elements for ethical nursing conduct.
Mental health nurse jobs
Australia is facing a shortage of mental health professionals, including nurses. You will find mental health jobs advertised on SEEK, LinkedIn, Ethical Jobs, Australian College of Mental Health Nurses, Healthcare Australia, Careers for Carers and hospital job boards.
There are a number of positions you can pursue as a mental health nurse, such as:
- Clinical mental health nurse
- Drug and alcohol nurse
- General practice mental health nurse
- Mental health clinician
- Mental health nurse
- Mental health nurse educator
- Mental Health nurse practitioner
- Mental health nursing researcher
- Nurse unit manager
- Psychiatric nurse
- Registered nurse (RN)
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