Mental Health Nursing Programs

Mental health nursing involves caring for the psychosocial needs of patients by helping them to manage their emotions, behavior, and self-care. Most undergraduate nursing schools include a mental health section as part of the curriculum, and you may spend some clinical practice time working in psychiatric care facilities or observing counseling situations.

Mental health nurses work with hospitalized patients and those in the community through home health, rehabilitation programs, or therapy. Registered nurses who have completed a nursing program that introduced the concepts of mental health nursing are qualified to work in these settings under the direction of a physician or psychiatrist. Mental health nurses administer psychotropic medications, participate in therapeutic procedures, and educate patients about how to care for themselves. They may also collaborate with those in other disciplines, such as social workers or community case managers, to find services to better meet patients’ needs.


Nurses who want advanced certification in mental health nursing can attend a nursing program for a higher degree. Mental health nursing programs train nurses at the master’s or doctoral levels to become advanced practice registered nurses in psychiatric-mental health (APRN-PMH). Nurses training through a mental health program must practice their skills at clinical locations that are focused on the desired areas of concentration. Some examples of these are community mental health programs, substance abuse centers, private therapy for family or individual counseling, and prisons or detention centers.

Nursing students in mental health programs also typically decide what age range of patients in which to concentrate. Because mental health needs vary throughout the life span, caring for a child with psychiatric issues is much different than managing an adult client or a patient in a nursing home with mental illness. These advanced programs teach nurses about the various psychosocial needs of patients through the stages of development as well as the effects of culture, gender, and ethnic background.

Nurses who obtain these credentials can become licensed to diagnose and treat patients with mental health issues. These advanced practice nurses can prescribe medications, provide individual counseling, or lead support groups. They may also provide consulting services for physicians and frequently collaborate with others to arrange patient services. Advanced practice nurses with mental health backgrounds are highly qualified to work in the community, and the variety of subtypes of mental health issues provides many opportunities for helping others.