What does a mental health nurse do? How long does it take to become a mental health nurse? What skills does a mental health nurse need?

Mental health nurse guide

This guide to registered mental health nurses (RMNs) looks at the main duties associated with this role and the qualifications and skills required by those who choose this career path.

What does a mental health nurse do?

No two days are the same as a mental health nurse, but their main responsibility is to support the recovery of those using mental health services and to help them to live a fulfilled life. This includes helping service users to understand their condition and find ways to cope with their experiences. Although a number of people may be diagnosed with the same mental health condition, each individual should receive support that is unique and tailored to them.

Registered mental health nurses are often based in hospitals or work within the community, but roles can also be found in schools, prisons, and a number of other settings. Duties can include helping people with their medications, finding suitable therapies, and even organising social activities - and building trust is a vital part of this career. In addition to working with service users, a RMN will coordinate with GPs, social workers, psychologists, health care assistants, and occupational therapists among others.

How long does it take to become a mental health nurse?

There are three main routes to choose from when it comes to becoming a mental health nurse. The degree route takes three to four years depending on whether you do a bachelors or masters qualification, and this will combine both learning modules and placements. Each university will have different entry requirements, but most ask for five GCSEs at grade C or equivalent, including English, a science, and maths, plus two or three A-Levels (or equivalent). Experience as a healthcare assistant or support worker can also be advantageous when applying for courses.

You could choose to complete a nurse degree apprenticeship or nursing associate apprenticeship instead. Nurse degree apprenticeships are offered through employers and enable you to combine work with your studies, whereas nursing associate apprenticeships work within a nursing team to deliver care. This option means you'll undertake academic learning one day a week and work-based learning for the rest of the week

What skills does a mental health nurse need?

As you might expect, there are a number of different skills that mental health nurses need in order to carry out their role effectively. Communication and interpersonal skills are very important as you’ll need to be able to understand and manage people while ensuring that you maintain trust at all times. You’ll be required to listen without judgement and act with compassion and empathy, not allowing your own emotions to interfere with the vital work that you’re carrying out and ensuring that you’re always self-aware.

The most important skill that RMNs need is an unwavering commitment to helping others. If someone is truly passionate about their role and improving the lives of those who need them, they’ll have the foundation required to become a registered mental health nurse.

If you’re considering becoming a nurse, take a look at our community nurse and children’s nurse guides too, as these will give you an idea of some of the other nursing career paths you can choose. You can also find out more in our nurse career guide.