The profession of mental health nursing is perhaps less well known or understood than other fields of nursing practice. On World Mental Health Day, we aim to inform you about this as a career option.
Mental health nursing is a part of the Nursing & Midwifery Council register and it requires a lifelong commitment to personal development and critical self-reflection. Learning about the self is a fundamental part of the process of enabling mental health nurses to engage with people in mental distress. Therapeutic use of self is sometimes the only intervention we have when interacting with people in highly emotional and sometimes traumatic situations. The Royal College of Nursing reinforces the need for mental health nurses to ‘be alongside’ people in distress and help them navigate their way back to where they would like to be in life. This is true for children, young people and adults of any age.
Mental health nursing practice is endlessly varied and requires not only expertise in understanding different ways of thinking about and interpreting mental distress, but also a holistic awareness of how physical and mental health interact with each other. Thus mental health nursing students have to learn about good physical assessments too because many physical illnesses can cause ‘psychiatric’ symptoms such as hallucinations or confusion. Physical health skills and knowledge enable resolution of such symptoms, for example recognising and treating infections. An additional level of consideration that makes this field of nursing so fascinating is the ability to learn about and understand cultures different to your own, and how mental distress is understood and effectively responded to within different cultural contexts.
The mental health nurses of the future can develop modern mental health nursing practices which strive to support a strengths based philosophy where efforts are made to recognise individual skills, be more aware of power imbalances between staff and service users, and focus on mutual learning, hopes, goals and empowering environments in seeking recovery. This is a complex process and one that requires the ability and willingness to understand and implement sophisticated theoretical possibilities whilst managing relationships productively and constructively.
Mental health nurse education
Mental health nurse education in the UK offers the opportunity to meet a comprehensive range of competences in practice settings. This leads to a registered nurse qualification alongside development of academic skills that ensure skills and knowledge are assessed at a high level (which can be either degree or masters level), and achievement of the academic qualification at the same time. This makes mental health nurse education intensive and challenging.
Some people say learning starts after qualification but students are well prepared to work in a variety of settings, for example, acute mental health care, dementia, forensic and prison settings, addictions, older people, children and young people amongst many others.
Most people probably spend time consolidating their learning for the first year or two after qualifying before starting to think about further study. Achieving employment in the UK or overseas is virtually guaranteed once you have met all the academic and proficiency outcomes. The variety and opportunity for your future are myriad with a mental health nursing qualification.
On World Mental Health Day, learning how to help and support people in complex mental distress could be a goal worth setting.