What it takes to be a Mental Health Nurse

Mikaela has been contemplating lately. Yes, she loves being a nurse, being able to care for the sick and see them recover. However, there’s something about ward nursing that has been boring her lately. It’s like she’s looking for something, like she wants to try out other fields and expand her knowledge. But which specialization would that be?

Hmm, she thinks to herself. Which specialization interests her? Flight nursing might be fun, but she gets jetlagged from all the flying. What else? Becoming a clinical instructor sounds interesting, too but she feels like she doesn’t have the patience to teach students. Wait, back on nursing school, there is one subject that she was most interested in. Mental Health Nursing.

She loved to tackle all about therapeutic communication and interpreting the meaning behind verbal and non-verbal cues. Concepts about the human mind and behaviour intrigues her and she has strong personality and communication skills. This might be the job for her. She smiles as she thinks to herself more.

“Maybe I should give this a try, maybe this specialization and I are meant to be.”

I want to become a mental health nurse, what do I need?

So, yes you have decided to sign in for Mental Health Nursing. But wait, are you sure that you are ready for this? Are you equipped with what’s needed to survive in this field? Let’s find out.

Strong personality

As a mental health nurse, you will be dealing with patients who suffer from mental illness and help them recover their mental health so that they can live to their fullest potential. Also, you might encounter those with conditions such as depression, neuroses, psychoses, psychological and personality disorders. You have to have a strong personality to be able to effectively deal with these patients.

Emotional maturity

Nurses need a good dose of emotional maturity in order to support their patients without feeling overwhelmed by their problems. You have to learn to empathize rather than sympathize with the people that you are dealing with and show warmth and care about them. When a patient breaks down, you don’t want to sob and cry with him/her and forget that you are the nurse. You don’t need to get on the same roller coaster of moods boat as your patients.


Mental health nursing is a rollercoaster ride. You don’t always get to encounter smooth sailing relationships with your patients (they have rollercoaster moods and emotions). Aside from patience, you have to be cognizant to maintain your own emotions in the same, very narrow professional range. Also, you have to have the patience and tolerance to sit and listen for long periods. Psych patients can be so in tuned to the nurse’s demeanor that an indifferent or brusque comment can cause a cascade of overblown emotions such as self-injurous behaviour, violence, self-seclusion.

Knowledgeable and have good problem solving skills

Having mentally ill patients doesn’t mean that they are not prone to certain conditions a mentally healthy patient encounters. As mental health nurses, you have to have strong assessment skills. Always remember that medical ailments can and do arise when caring on a psych unit. And when emergencies come, you must know how to think and know what to do.

Excellent communication skills

Being in this field, you must be able to convey concepts and give clear instructions to patients and you may do so by having good communication skills. Not only that, you must also communicate effectively with other health professionals as you collaborate with them and work as a team.

Mental health nursing may be a demanding, and tiring field. But once you know how to get along with this specialization, at the end of the day, it could feel like one of the most fulfilling fields there is. However, when one is interested in a field, he/she should not just jump in. He/she must first know if he/she is capable and equipped enough for the job, not only for the his/her sake, but for the patients as well.


Liane Clores, RN MAN

Currently an Intensive Care Unit nurse, pursuing a degree in Master of Arts in Nursing Major in Nursing Service Administration. Has been a contributor of Student Nurses Quarterly, Vox Populi, The Hillside Echo and the Voice of Nightingale publications. Other experience include: Medical-Surgical, Pediatric, Obstetric, Emergency and Recovery Room Nursing.

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