Mental Health Nursing: a Profession in Demand


Published: 18 January 2023

A mental health nurse is a nurse who specialises in caring for people who are experiencing mental illness or distress or who are recovering from trauma.

They may care for people with conditions such as depression, perinatal mental health conditions, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorders and psychosis (Healthdirect 2020).

There is a need for a greater focus on mental health in Australia - we now know that a staggering one in five Australians experience a mental health condition each year, and 44% of Australians will experience symptoms of mental illnesses across their lifetime (AIHW 2022).

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. A 2014 report from the Department of Health indicates that by 2030, Australia will have an undersupply of 18,500 mental health nurses. If this occurs, it will be the ‘largest (staff) undersupply of all sectors’ in Australia’s healthcare system (Health Workforce Australia 2014).

Nurse with elderly man in bed | Image
There is need for a greater focus on mental health in Australia.

What is Mental Health Nursing?

Mental health nurses aim to improve the quality of life of patients living with mental illness. In addition to assisting with mental health management, this care may also extend to addressing a person’s physical, social, cultural and spiritual needs (UniSA 2023; Healthdirect 2020).

Mental health nurses actively participate in the recognition, assessment and treatment of people with mental health and comorbid related conditions and offer support and assistance to families and friends (UniSA 2023). Mental health nurses are still required to carry out the tasks of general nurses.

Where do Mental Health Nurses Work?

Mental health nurses can work in a variety of settings across metropolitan, regional, rural and remote areas, including but not limited to:

  • The community
  • Schools
  • Public and private mental health services
  • Hospitals
  • Forensic settings
  • Emergency care
  • Rehabilitation
  • Residential care.

Mental health nurses often work as part of an interdisciplinary team of health professionals. Advanced nurses can study to become mental health nurse practitioners, and work in emergency departments or in rural and remote locations.

Roles of the Mental Health Nurse

  • Working with people to plan and aid their recovery (recovery is to be determined by the person living with a mental illness)
  • Helping to educate people, their family and their clinician(s) about the person’s mental illness and treatment
  • Advocating for people who may be marginalised, stigmatised or socially excluded
  • Providing counselling and offering strategies to cope with emotional problems
  • Helping people to manage their symptoms and their medications (if taken)
  • Communicating with other health professionals involved in a person’s care to ensure they get the most appropriate treatment
  • Helping people navigate the healthcare system and interact with services such as Centrelink, housing and community programs
  • Talking to a person’s family and wider support network, if requested to
  • Helping to review a person’s mental health care plan with their doctor.

(Healthdirect 2020)

Nurse and healthcare professional sharing information | Image
Mental health nurses work in a variety of settings.

Mental health nurses are able to support patients and their families in periods of transition and crisis (ACMHN 2023).

They achieve this through:

  • Liaising with a range of healthcare workers
  • Providing information and education on mental health maintenance and recovery
  • Arranging for and coordinating care
  • Providing a range of therapies.

(ACMHN 2023)

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 lifespans in many workplace settings (ACMHN 2023).

How Do You Become a Mental Health Nurse?

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 (Probono Australia 2018).

Australian College of Mental Health Nurses Credentialing

A credential from the Australian College of Mental Health Nurses recognises the qualifications, skills, expertise and experience of nurses who are practicing as specialist mental health nurses (ACMHN 2021).

Being a Credentialed Mental Health Nurse (CMHN) shows employers, professional colleagues, consumers and carers that you have achieved the professional standard for practice in mental health nursing (ACMHN 2021).

Additionally, this credential boosts awareness of the contribution mental health nurses make to the mental health of the community (ACMHN 2021).

Is Mental Health Nursing Right for Me?

Mental health nurses play a crucial role in the healthcare system and are able to make an enormous difference to the lives of people living with mental illness.

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.

Nurse smiling | Image
Mental health nurses play a crucial role in the healthcare system.


Test Your Knowledge

Question 1 of 3

Which one of the following is a location in which a mental health nurse may work?


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