Mental illness afflicts people from all backgrounds, income levels, and age groups. A mental health nurse is a special type of person who is dedicated to improving their patients’ lives and offering caring support. The psychiatric mental health nursing (PMHN) specialization, as described in a variety of online nurse education videos, administers to the needs of communities, groups, families, and individuals. This profession requires a dedicated individual who possesses strong communication skills and an understanding of relationships, and who is generally knowledgeable in the behavioral sciences as well as basic sciences.1


Nurses who specialize in mental health fields often deal with difficult patients and people who are emotionally distressed, so they must be non-judgmental and able to show compassion and empathy. They must draw on more than their medical training, and should be emotionally healthy and stable, with strong critical thinking skills that help them cope with crisis situations.

The field is demanding and full of challenges. Often, psychiatric nurses must work nights, or on weekends and holidays. They may be required to deal with potentially dangerous patients. At the same time, they are rewarded with the satisfaction of relieving suffering, helping people overcome difficulties while learning to manage and improve their lives.


PMHN nurses assess and diagnose patients, and then develop a plan of care and implement it. Their services can include personal care and support, as well as coordination among members of an interdisciplinary medical team, communicating with physicians, family members, and other types of caregivers. 1


PMHN nurses can achieve a more specialized role as a Psychiatric Mental Health Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (PMH-APRN). These nurses earn the advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) designation with a master’s or doctoral degree in psychiatric-mental health nursing.1

In addition to assessing, diagnosing, and treating families and individuals experiencing psychiatric disorders, they can identify mental health risk factors and contribute to policy development. They have opportunities to utilize their skills in psychotherapy and psychopharmacology. They may focus on integrative and consultation services, working with complex mental and physical issues in families. Some APRN nurses go on to work as university educators. 1


Qualified mental health nurses will find opportunities to work in a wide variety of settings. They are in demand at both psychiatric hospitals and general hospitals with psychiatric patients. Substance abuse treatment programs and community mental health agencies rely on PMHNs , and there is always a need for them in home healthcare services and private practice arrangements.

The mental health nursing field includes multiple levels of practice and areas of specialization, such as age groups or specific types of disorders, like forensic psychiatry (dealing with those who are mentally ill and have committed crimes).

Depending on the scope of practice for the state they work in, mental health nurses (PMH-APRNs) may have their own private practice, offer primary care, and consult with legislators on public policy, or with various communities, groups, and corporations. They can be called on to assess, diagnose, and treat psychiatric disorders for individuals or whole families. They may also manage a plan of care from diagnosis through implementation, and evaluate it for effectiveness. 1

Photo of Psychiatric Consultation


There are training and education programs for each level of advancement as a mental health nurse, requiring varied lengths of time to complete. Education videos for nurses offer a convenient source of ongoing training and up-to-date information in a demanding career setting.

A PMHN is a basic level nurse that works in psychiatric nursing. To become a registered nurse (RN) a person must earn their associate’s degree in Nursing or a bachelor’s degree and upon graduation pass the RN licensing examination.

The PMH-APRN completes a master’s or clinical doctorate in psychiatric-mental health nursing. After graduation they may take a national certification examination developed by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Since PMH-APRN requirements for advance licensing vary depending on the state to obtain the most accurate information, contact each state’s board of nursing.


Before deciding if mental health nursing is the right career path for you, explore and test the field to see how you feel about it. Volunteering to work in a community program, a hospital, or another agency where you’ll encounter psychiatric patients is a great opportunity to see how you interact with them, as you gain experience.

Enroll in your basic nursing program and elect to try the psychiatric-mental health rotation, to gain experience and try out your skills in practice. If you are uncertain about nursing as a career path, or about the mental health nursing area, start with a two-year community college program to gain exposure and training, and then decide on your next step. It is important to maintain good grades throughout, as nursing, like other healthcare programs, has limited spaces and requires high standards.


Psychiatric nursing is as much a vocation as a career choice, requiring dedicated individuals who will keep up with the necessary continuing education courses throughout their careers. Today, many health care professionals, including mental health nursing students and practicing nurses, take advantage of the growing availability of online courses and healthcare videos to stay current, maintain credentialing, or pursue their basic nursing education courses. Professionals, too, like university educators, librarians, and others, can find an abundance of resources to keep students engaged and moving forward in fulfilling careers.

Photo of Psychiatric Consultation 2


Nursing Designations and Degrees

  • APRN – Advanced Practice Registered Nurse
  • DNP – Doctor of Nursing Practice
  • PMHN – Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse
  • RN – Registered Nurse

Credentialing Boards and Professional Associations

  • AACN – American Association of Colleges of Nursing (for program accreditations)
  • NLN – National League for Nursing
  • ANCC – American Nurses Credentialing Center (board certifies in psychiatric nursing)
  • APNA – American Psychiatric Nurses Association
  • ISPN – International Society of Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurses
  • NCLEX – National Council Licensure Examination
  • NCSBN – National Council of State Boards of Nursing (check for state nursing board contacts, to verify requirements by state)


1. http://www.apna.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3292