What You Need to Know
- Mental health nurses help care for patients with a wide range of mental health issues, in hospitals, clinics or in the community
- The work is highly varied; tasks can involve drawing up treatment plans, working with social workers and running support groups
- In order to work as a mental health nurse in the UK you will need to hold a degree in mental health nursing
- Most UK universities offering mental health nursing degrees ask that you have good GCSEs and two A-levels
- You will also need to demonstrate an interest in mental health, so consider volunteering in a hospital before going to university
- Alongside a degree, you will also need to register with the Nursing and Midwifery Council before you can start working
- Mental health nurses earn between £21,000 and £28,000 a year, though some senior nurses and consultants may earn much more
What Do Mental Health Nurses Do?
Mental health nurses help care for patients with a wide range of mental health issues. The work is challenging yet rewarding and highly varied. For instance, you may work helping people overcome substance addictions, people with depression and anxiety, with eating disorders or with stress-related illnesses. Additionally, while you may work in a hospital, you may just as likely end up working at a community health centre or small clinic. So, while your exact duties may vary, they could involve the following:
- Carrying out initial patient assessments and working with other healthcare professionals to devise a treatment plan
- Supporting doctors and clinical psychologists in treating patients, including helping give out medications
- Running patient support groups and encouraging individuals with mental health issues to get involved
- Liaising with social workers, the police, community groups and local government officials
- Providing physical health care alongside mental health support
Skills and Qualifications
In order to work as a mental health nurse in the UK you will need to hold a degree in mental health nursing and then register with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC). A number of universities offer degrees in the subject, most of them requiring three-to-four years full-time study. While entry requirements vary between individual institutions, you will normally need at least five good GCSEs, as well as two or three good A-levels, including one in a science or health-related subject.
To find a university offering specialist mental health nursing degrees, visit the NMC website (http://www.nmc-uk.org) or simply search online. Just a few courses on offer to aspiring mental health professionals include:
- City University, London: BSc (Hons) Mental Health Nuring: A three-year, full-time course offering excellent career prospects and flexible learning.
- University of Manchester: BNurs Mental Health Nursing: Another three-year course, with relatively high entry requirements, requiring three years full-time study.
- Sheffield Hallam University: BSc Nursing Studies (Mental Health): A three-year course, divided equally between classroom training and on-the-job experience.
As well as good school and college qualifications, most course providers will also ask that you have some relevant experience, so it’s a good idea to try and volunteer in a local hospital or shadow a mental health worker before you apply for anything.
Alongside a recognised degree, you will also need to have a wide range of skills and personal attributes in order to embark on a career as a mental health nurse. For instance, you will need:
A sympathetic and non-judgemental nature and a genuine desire to help people, regardless of their issues and backgrounds
- The ability to work in a stressful, occasionally upsetting environment
- Excellent communication skills and the ability to work with a wide range of people, including social workers, doctors and psychiatrists
- A willingness to work well beyond a standard nine-to-five job and to put the wellbeing of patients first
- A genuine interest in mental health issues and a willingness to keep up with all the latest developments in the field
Training and Career Development
Degrees in mental health nursing are varied and highly challenging. In the space of just three years you will have the opportunity to shadow mental health professionals, work directly with patients (albeit under supervision) and spend time in both hospitals and clinics.
Even once you get your degree you will be required to keep up with your training and there are also a number of options open to you if you want to push ahead with your career. For starters, in order to remain accredited by the NMC, you will be required to work at least 450 hours and undertake at least 35 hours of professional development every three years.
On top of this, you may want to carry on with your studies through to Master’s degree level, with this level of formal training allowing you to apply for senior posts such as advanced nurse practitioner (ANP) and clinical nurse specialist (CNS) jobs. Similarly, with experience, you may be able to become a nurse consultant, with this type of role bringing more responsibility and better rates of pay.
For more information on the career development paths open to you in this field, consult the NMC website.
Pay and Benefits
Pay rates for mental health nurses vary according to how much experience you have, what field you specialise in and how much responsibility you have.
According to the National Careers Service, mental health nurses earn between £21,000 and £28,000 a year, with experienced professionals, including clinical specialists and team leaders potentially earning as much as £40,000 a year. Moreover, as a nurse consultant, you could see your annual wage rise to as much as £65,000, particularly if you work in or around London.
However, few people go into mental health nursing for the money. Instead, they pursue this career in order to help others, with the satisfaction that comes from doing just this undoubtedly the biggest benefit. Other upsides of working as a mental health nurse include being able to work with a wide range of people, including patients and fellow health professionals, working in a fascinating, intellectually-stimulating and constantly-evolving field and being able to work in a range of settings rather than simply sit at the same desk every day of your working day.
Given the many challenges, being a mental health nurse is not for everyone. The work can be mentally and emotionally demanding and may often involve long shifts, late nights and unsocial hours.
The majority of mental health nurses in the UK work for the National Health Service (NHS), so this should be the first place you look for new opportunities. The NHS Careers website (http://www.jobs.nhs.uk/) is constantly updated, allowing you to look for jobs according to type, location and level of professional experience.
Alternatively, a number of recruitment agencies specialise in placing qualified mental health nurses in both temporary and permanent jobs. These include the likes of HCL Nursing (http://www.hclnursing.com/) and Mayday Healthcare (http://www.maydayhealthcareplc.co.uk/).
The NHS Careers website has a guide to everything you need to know about working as a mental health nurse. Check it out here: http://www.nhscareers.nhs.uk/explore-by-career/nursing/careers-in-nursing/mental-health-nursing/