Mental health nurses: roles & responsibilities


Emotional well-being is not something that we can overlook in today’s society. Living a fulfilling life can be challenging for those struggling with mental illness because their disorder dominates what they think or do daily. 

A person with a mental illness may have problems with emotions, thoughts, and behaviors that are long-lasting and cause significant distress for an extended period.

As we focus more on our mental and physical health, a group of people is consistently relied upon to support us when we struggle. Mental health nurses work with those experiencing psychological problems such as depression, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Learn more about what these nurses do by reading the following article.

Who is a mental health nurse?

Mental health nurses are nursing professionals who work in diverse settings to help people learn how to live healthy and fulfilling lives.

Mental health nurses get trained to identify and help with various mental health conditions. They include psychiatric, forensic, or mental health nurses who work with people affected by mental illness. 

The nurses assess and care for people with psychiatric disorders by evaluating their symptoms and needs, planning treatment, teaching coping skills, and providing support.

Mental illness can be one aspect of their work, but they also assist with physical health, substance abuse, mental retardation, and nutritional needs. In some instances, mental health nurses also educate the public about various issues and help people deal with the stigma of mental illness.

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Usual employers of mental health nurses

Mental health nurses work in various settings, such as inpatient facilities, outpatient clinics, rehabilitation centers, and community clinics. Here are the most common employers of mental health nurses.

General and psychiatric hospitals

A general hospital is a non-specialized facility that provides care to people with all medical conditions. They can provide different types of medical services for their patients. Although public hospitals may not offer advanced care and comprehensive treatment, those admitted can get the treatment they need for their mental illness or emotional problems. 

Psychiatric hospitals are institutions where the mentally ill can get treated for their disorders. Mental health nurses often belong to this group because they usually have more support and additional training that helps them cope with their patients better.

Residential and nursing homes

Residential and nursing homes are facilities where individuals who cannot care for themselves can live and get treatment. These places usually offer full responsibility to the patients by providing them with continuous care and support. 

Residential and nursing homes provide care to elderly or disabled people and children as well. They partner with mental health nurses who can assist in providing primary care, conducting assessments and therapy sessions, and educating the residents about their disorders. 

Residential homes have regular admission and discharge policies, while nursing homes may show prolonged stay policies in most cases. Residential homes have higher support services, while nursing homes only provide essential services, such as assistance in eating, drinking, personal hygiene, and taking medications.

Mental health nurses must also help these individuals’ families with any problems arising from their loved ones’ illnesses. They help promote wellness for the patients by teaching self-management techniques and coping skills and setting goals for recovery. 

Community and rehabilitation units

Community and rehabilitation units are places where people who need help can live and get rehabilitated. These facilities offer a lot of support to their patients, so the nurses can feel comfortable with what they do.

Due to the warm environment, community and rehabilitation units have a high rate of patient participation and compliance. Things that make these places attractive for people with mental disorders include communicating better, having more privacy, getting more exercise opportunities, and receiving counseling. 

It’s not just about offering direct care in hospitals; mental health nurses also work in community settings such as schools, senior centers, psychiatric hospitals, residential homes, nursing homes, and other care settings.

Special prison units

Mental health nurses also work in special prison units. These are facilities designed to house prisoners with a history of mental illness. Some of these prisoners may have mental illnesses, while others may have substance abuse problems.

These individuals need special care that only mental health nurses can provide. It is essential to know that they also get trained in providing care and creating a therapeutic environment for their patients.

These nurses get trained to work with the correctional staff because they have a long-term relationship with the patients. Dealing with these special prisoners requires professional skills and knowledge, which allow them to be successful in treatment and management.

The role of these nurses is to provide supportive counseling to help their patients get better, change their behavior, and learn new coping skills for stressful situations.

What does a mental health nurse do?

Mental health nurses spend a lot of time with their patients. They spend most of their time using the therapeutic relationship to help their patients improve, change, and learn new coping skills.

Mental health nurses have various roles in helping individuals with mental illness return to society. Depending on their symptoms, they must know how much care they need for each patient.

Here are some roles that mental health nurses play in instituting their professional duties.

Determining and planning nursing care needs

Mental health nurses are responsible for interviewing their patients and assessing their symptoms. They use their professional skills and knowledge to identify each patient’s needs. They must then determine what kind of therapy to help them and plan care accordingly. 

Depending on their symptoms, they know how much time to spend with the patient and what treatment is needed. They are experts in this field because they have enough knowledge and skill required for planning, counseling, and treatment plans.

Visiting patients at their homes

Some mentally ill patients are elderly, bedridden, disabled, or children who cannot take themselves to the hospital. Other patients prefer outdoor or home-based care as their preference. 

Sometimes the hospital setting is also not the best setting to treat some mental illnesses, leading to the mental nurses having to visit the patients’ homes.

Mental health nurses often visit them regularly to help these patients get better while they stay at home. These visits are necessary to determine the patient’s needs and to monitor how they are fairing after treatment. The nurses also get to asses the patients to ascertain the procedure they should take to nurse the patient.

Establishing relationships with and conversing with patients

Considering their patients’ mental illnesses, these nurses must establish a relationship and converse with them. It’s not easy for patients with mental illness, but mental health nurses try to understand their symptoms and avoid scaring them away.

Mental health nurses’ training helps patients recover, improve their conditions, and learn new coping methods. Their duties include monitoring the patient’s condition, helping them feel comfortable with their recovery process, and encouraging them to keep going. They also teach them how to live with their disorder healthily.

Involving themselves during the recovery period helps these nurses gain the trust of their patients and establish a bond between them. It is also essential because they can help these people get better faster since they have in-depth knowledge about the best treatment needed by each patient.

Combating stigma and assisting patients and their families in dealing with it

Stigma is a negative attitude people or society have about the mentally ill. It is the social rejection and disapproval of these individuals by their families, friends, or community. Stigma may lead to discrimination or misunderstanding by these individuals.

Mental health nurses help patients and families cope with stigma through proper education and counseling. They educate them about mental illness, how to deal with the stigma, and other issues that people with mental disorders face while they recover. They also teach them how to help their patients or family recover faster by encouraging them during recovery.

In addition, they also teach them how to change their perception of mentally ill individuals. Educating them makes stigma less of an issue because they have changed their mindsets into believing you can treat mental illness like any other illness.

Medication administration

After a clear assessment of the patient’s situation and diagnosis, mental health nurses determine which medication to use. They help their patients get the proper medication and follow their doctors’ orders. 

They also monitor their health records, track their patient’s condition, and ensure they continue receiving the needed medications. Many mentally ill individuals do not have a stable treatment environment. 

They must know how to assess a patient’s symptoms and choose the best treatment method based on their needs, history, current situation, and family or community involvement in treating them.

Establishing and revising care plans

Care plans are documents with a list of patient information and their treatment needs. Mental health nurses are the main person in planning and revising care plans. They can also determine what kind of nursing care each patient requires.

A clear plan is necessary for the recovery process to go smoothly, primarily when patients’ treatments depend on other people’s actions. The proper care plan helps patients receive the right treatment at the right time.

Coordinating with doctors, social workers, and other professionals

Mental health nurses blend with other professionals when necessary. They must be in regular contact with their patients’ doctors to monitor how they are doing and check for any required changes.

They must also coordinate with other staff, such as social workers, to help determine and adjust care plans for each patient when necessary. Long-term care issues are also part of their work, not just medication administration. 

These professionals know their patients better than mental health nurses and can assess the needs that arise after treatment. They can effectively coordinate between different services to ensure each patient receives the necessary care.

Evaluating treatment efficacy at case conferences and meetings

Case conferences and meetings are crucial because they help all the involved parties get updated on a patient’s progress. They often involve the patient’s healthcare providers, family members, and friends.

The mental health nurses also evaluate these events, especially regarding medication treatment. They need to know how well each person is doing before treatment seizes. 

Reviewing their charts at these conferences or meetings allows the nurses to see the patient’s progress and determine if additional treatment is needed. If a medical condition improves or worsens, they will tell their patients’ doctors so they can adjust the plan accordingly.

Creating and updating patient records

Mental health nurses document every visit and action they take during treatment. They write detailed reports of the patient’s condition and treatment plan. Updating helps other medical professionals know what they did to improve a patient’s mental state.

The records also give them a way to see if there are any changes or improvements in their patients’ conditions. These reports help them determine if the treatment plan is working or requires revisions to be more effective. They help their patients get better faster since their doctors can treat them immediately without waiting for the nurse to tell them about it.

Encouraging patients to participate in therapeutic activities

Mental health nurses help their patients get better and stay healthy by encouraging them to participate in therapeutic activities. These activities help them build a sense of responsibility and independence. 

Therapeutic activities also help these individuals improve their social and cognitive skills that support their recovery. The right kind of therapy helps these people overcome negative feelings such as fear, anger, or sadness. It also helps them reason and develops a positive image about themselves instead of letting it worsen with time from being idle.

Wrap up

Mental health nurses play a vital role in the lives of their patients. They work with their patients and the people around them to make them recover faster. 

With proper training, mental health nurses can help mentally ill individuals get better and have a healthier life, even if they have a long-term condition that affects them for many years. 

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