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Career profile: Mental health nurse

mental health nurseGet the lowdown on what the job involves, what qualifications you need and how long it takes to train.

A what?

Mental health nurses care for people with mental health problems in hospitals and in the community. They help patients to overcome their ill health, or to come to terms with it, so that they can lead as normal a life as possible.

On the job

Mental health nurses are at the front line in providing support for people suffering from a range of mental health problems. They work with GPs, psychiatrists, social workers and others to co-ordinate care. In recent years, there has been a significant shift from hospitals to the community as the setting for mental health care.

Nurses work in people's homes, in small residential units, and in local health centres with considerable autonomy in how they plan and deliver care. At the same time, they are key players in a multi-agency team. The one-to-one personal relationships that mental health nurses form with people are at the heart of the care process.

As a mental health nurse you are likely to be dealing with people of all ages and from a wide range of backgrounds. As your career develops you may choose to specialise in areas such as drugs and alcohol misuse or working with offenders. You could also become involved in education, research, or management roles.

The key challenge for you as a mental health nurse is to use your specialist skills, and personal strengths, to help people come to terms with their problems. The important factors in this therapeutic relationship are the ability to listen and draw information out, and then to help people find means of coping with their problems. Involving family, friends and other contacts will often be part of your role.

Another challenge is to identify if and when a person may be at risk of harming themselves or others; so one of the skills you'll learn is spotting the build-up of tension and ways of defusing it.

Course entry requirements

To work in the NHS, nurses must hold a degree in nursing, which leads to registration with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), enabling them to practice as a nurse.

Entry requirements vary depending on the course and the institution, so check before applying. You will usually need around five GCSEs plus two A-levels (or Highers) for a degree programme.

What does the training involve?

Degree courses last three or four years, and lead to a BSc in Nursing.

All nursing degrees consist of common foundation programmes (CFP) usually for one year on full-time courses, before specialisation in the next two or three years of the course.

Part-time courses are provided by some universities and normally last for five or six years. They are available to staff working in the NHS – usually as an assistant or an associate practitioner with qualifications up to NVQ level 3 (or equivalent).

Related links

(Information taken from NHS Careers)