Nurses in this field aid and support the mental health of patients with acute or chronic psychiatric needs in a variety of settings. The need for psychiatric mental health nursing began near the end of the nineteenth century, when it was believed that patients in mental hospitals should receive nursing care. Psychiatric mental health nursing has since evolved, with psychiatric-mental health content incorporated into all diploma and baccalaureate nursing programs. As new needs for services developed in the health care arena, the role and function of the psychiatric-mental health nurse expanded, leading to advanced practice registered nurses in psychiatric-mental health nursing (APRN-PMH).

Duties of a Psychiatric Nurse

Psychiatric nurses provide care to mentally ill and emotionally disturbed patients as part of a team implementing an overall psychiatric treatment program. The duties of the psychiatric nurse include the knowledge of: the laws and regulations pertaining to psychiatric nursing both nationwide and in the state of practice; the various methods, techniques, and procedures used in psychiatric nursing; the uses and effects of psychotropic drugs and narcotics; patient safety practices and facility security; symptoms and behavior patterns of emotionally disturbed and mentally ill patients; theories, principles, and techniques of group and individual psychotherapy; mental health community resources and services; the principles, practices, and laws of professional nursing; health education; common illnesses, diseases, disabilities, injuries, and nutrition.

Also, psychiatric nurses need to maintain the ability to explain mental health laws and regulations; observe emotional and physical behavior; evaluate and assess the need for mental health services; analyze a situation and adopt a course of action; prepare and maintain medical records and reports; recognize and respect limits of confidential information; direct and advise other nursing staff; communicate with people of diverse socioeconomic and ethnic origins; speak before groups; exercise independent judgment in medical emergencies; demonstrate tact, diplomacy, patience, and compassion; establish and maintain working relationships with co-workers, other agencies, and organizations; comply with nursing policies, protocols, and program regulations; understand and follow oral and written instructions and work independently if necessary.

Psychiatric-mental health nurses work in a wide array of inpatient and outpatient such as full or partial hospitals, community-based or home care programs, and local, state, and federal mental health agencies. Other settings include: School/college of nursing, private practice, military, primary care office, prison/jail, home health agency, behavioral care company/HMO.

Related Types of Nurses

Because of their broad background in biological, pharmacological, sociological, and psychological sciences, psychiatric-mental health nurses are a rich resource as providers of psychiatric-mental health services and patient care partners for the consumers of those services. Psychiatric nursing sub-specialties include – but are not limited to – pediatric, adult, geriatric, consult/liaison, substance abuse and forensic nursing. Certification in a sub-specialty is possible through ANCC and various sub-specialty organizations. Therefore, nurses in this field may find a niche beyond psychiatric services in those forementioned specialties.

Psychiatric Nursing Degrees

Registered nurses who seek additional education and obtain a master’s or doctoral degree can become advanced practice nurses in this specialty. After post-master’s supervised clinical practice, they can become certified as specialists in adult, or child and adolescent psychiatric-mental health nursing.

Online Programs in Psychiatric Nursing

  • American Sentinel University: RN to MSN
  • Benedictine University¬†: MSN
  • Brandman University: MSN to DNP
  • Grantham University: RN to MSN
  • Kaplan University: MSN
  • Keiser University: MSN
  • Ohio University: MSN
  • Spring Arbor University: MSN
  • South University: MSN
  • University of Massachusetts: DNP
  • University of Phoenix: MSN
  • University of Phoenix: PhD in Nursing
  • University of San Francisco: BSN to MSN
  • Walden University: BSN to MSN
  • Walden University: DNP
  • Walden University: RN to MSN