Mental Health Nursing: a Profession in Demand
Published: 21 January 2020
Published: 21 January 2020
A mental health nurse is a nurse who specialises in caring for people who are experiencing mental illness, distress or are recovering from trauma. They may care for people with conditions such as depression, perinatal mental health conditions, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder or psychosis.
There is need for a greater focus on mental health in Australia - we now know that a staggering 1 in 5 Australians experience a mental health condition each year and 49% of Australians will experience symptoms of mental illnesses across their lifetime. A steadily increasing demand for mental healthcare in Australia is exactly why trained mental health nurses are so vital to our community (Probono Australia 2018).
Demand for skilled mental health professionals is high, research from The Department of Health indicated that Australia will have fewer than 40 per cent of mental health nurses than it requires in 2030 in anticipation that the rising trend in poor mental health continues. If this occurs, it would be the ‘largest (staff) undersupply of all sectors’ in Australia’s healthcare system (The Department of Health quoted by Probono Australia 2018).
Mental health nurses work with clients to help them manage the challenges of life and meet their recovery goals. This care goes beyond mental health and extends to addressing a person’s cultural, and spiritual needs, and considers their lived experience as well as their family, significant others and wider community (ACMHN n.d.a).
Mental health nurses also care for a person’s physical health as well and often care for people who have some of the worst health outcomes of all vulnerable population groups. They actively participate in the recognition, assessment and treatment of people with mental health and co-morbid related conditions and offer support and assistance to families and friends (University of South Australia 2020). Mental health nurses are still required to carry out the tasks of general nurses.
Mental health nurses work in a variety of settings, including but not limited to: the community, schools, public and private mental health services, hospitals, forensic settings, emergency care, rehabilitation and in residential care across metropolitan, regional, rural and remote areas. Mental health nurses often work as part of an interdisciplinary team of health professionals. Advanced nurses can study to become a mental health nurse practitioner, work in EDs or in rural and remote locations.
Mental health nurses are able to support patients and their families in periods of transition and periods of crises.
They achieve this through:
Mental health nurses play a crucial role in the healthcare system and possess the qualifications, skills and experience to provide high-quality mental health nursing care in a wide range of contexts.
Mental health nursing is a constantly changing and dynamic profession. The mental health nursing workforce must be flexible and responsive. A mental health nurse must be able to work with people across their lifespan in many workplace settings (ACMHN n.d.a).
With an undergraduate degree in nursing or diploma in nursing, you are able to practice as a nurse and work in most mental health settings.
To progress into a specialist mental health nursing role, you will need to pursue postgraduate study in mental health nursing at either a graduate diploma or masters level (ACMHN n.d.a).
The Australian College of Mental Health Nurses ‘Mental Health Nurse Credential’ recognises the qualifications, skills, expertise and experience of nurses who are practicing as specialist mental health nurses.
Possessing this credential shows employers, professional colleagues, consumers and carers that you have achieved the professional standard for practice in mental health nursing.
Additionally, this credential boosts awareness of the contribution mental health nurses make to the mental health of the community (ACMHN n.d.b).
Mental health nurses play a crucial role in the healthcare system and are able to make an enormous difference in the lives of people living with mental health issues.
It is worth keeping in mind that practising as a mental health nurse demands resilience and strength of character and can be emotionally exhausting. By providing ongoing support to patients and delivering complex interventions mental health nurses are ultimately able to produce the best possible outcomes for those in their care.
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