Significant differences exist between mental health nursing and general nursing. Mental health nursing is a field that requires extra training, could have you working in mental health facilities, and for which your job may require greater coordination and communication skills.

Let’s compare mental health nursing vs general nursing in terms of the training, where you work, and the nature of the job. If you’re considering specializing in mental health or psychiatric nursing, the article may provide you with some clarity on the type of nursing career that’s best for you.

Extra Training for Mental Health Nursing

For general nursing, you pursue a regular nursing program concerned with caring for patients with various health conditions.

General nurse training will likely cover mental health issues in dealing with patient care. Arkansas State University notes that “Regardless of their specialty, nurses may deal with patients who are either showing signs of or are at risk of developing mental illness.” But the coverage of mental health in a Bachelor of Nursing general program won’t be especially detailed.

To become a mental health nurse, you must do regular nursing training first as this is mandatory. During the regular program, you can choose to do your clinical rotation in a psychiatric setting. Thus, you will be able to gain valuable insights in regard to mental health nursing.

For mental health nursing, more steps are required. Here is an example of the requirements.

  1. You must acquire your registered nursing license by completing an exam.
  2. You need to become certified in mental health nursing. Typically, certification is valid for a duration of five years.
  3. You must be an active registered nurse and have worked for at least two years on a full-time basis before getting certified.
  4. You must complete at least two thousand hours of nursing practice in a mental health clinic setting for three years.
  5. Finally, you must complete thirty hours of mental health nursing education.

If you meet all those requirements, you can become certified as a mental health nurse.

The exact steps do depend on your location, however. For example, a mental health nurse in Australia is essentially an experienced Registered Nurse who has completed an accredited graduate diploma or master’s program.

In Australia, as detailed in this article, you have two main types of nurses: a Registered Nurse (RN) and an Enrolled Nurse (EN). RN’s typically have a Bachelor of Nursing degree whereas EN’s don’t. Only RN’s can apply to be accredited mental health nurses with the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia.

Likely Differences in the Place of Work

Those who pursue general nursing may work in hospital settings in many different areas of the hospital, such as in the cardiac unit, the cancer unit, the maternity unit, the children’s unit, and more.

General nurses may also provide private care to people in their homes. They may work in nursing homes or as safety nurses at work sites. They may even work as school nurses as well.

On the other hand, those who pursue mental health nursing may work in therapy clinics with psychiatrists and psychologists. They may work in the mental health units of hospitals.

Mental health nurses may work in veteran facilities. They also work in nursing homes. Such nurses may also provide daily support to patients who come for visits instead of staying in a hospital facility.

Nature of General Nursing vs Mental Health Nursing

Those who pursue general nursing will deal with patients who have physical health issues. Such issues include treating patients who present with colds, insomnia, diarrhea, cancer, pregnancies, wounds, diabetes, heart attacks, arthritis, infections, etc.

General nurses provide remedies, treatments, and care for the physical health issues of patients.

In contrast, those who pursue mental health nursing will deal with patients who have issues with their minds and/or living circumstances. Mental health nurses provide care for those who have anxiety, depression, psychosis, and various mental health issues. As noted in the Nurse Journal, “Mental health nurses do many of the same things that psychiatrists do, such as diagnosing conditions, doing psychotherapy, and prescribing drugs.”

Mental health nurses try to help to bring more peace, calm, healing, and stability to the minds of their patients through remedies, treatments, and care.

Often, a large part of the job is connecting the patient to the people in health care or community services who are best positioned to help the individual. According to Lerna, “Mental health nurses usually work as part of a multidisciplinary team that may include doctors, psychologists, and other nurses and allied health professionals.” Psychiatric nurses often also work with family members to achieve the best possible outcome.

With all these duties and responsibilities, mental health nurses must possess key qualities to perform their jobs well. These include: 

  • Composure: They must remain calm under pressure. This is especially true in emergencies or work settings where patients exhibit hostility. Proper composure means having the ability to handle tense situations effectively.   
  • Empathy and patience: Mental health nurses usually spend a lot of time interacting with marginalized and vulnerable people. Hence, they should be empathetic and patient, practicing these even in hostile situations.   
  • Sociability: Mental health nurses frequently coordinate patient care with other medical professionals. Practical relationship-building skills and friendliness are essential because of this.

These are the qualities that mental health nurses should possess to last long in their chosen field.

With the extra training, qualities, and skills required for a mental health nurse, it may take a lot of work to become a specialist in this area of expertise. But the job is rewarding and makes a massive difference in people’s lives.  

Also, being a specialized job, many opportunities are available for mental health nurses. They can even find them in outpatient treatment centers. If you’re already part of one, consider investing in proper mental health marketing to spread your scope of service to more people in need.  

With marketing, you can also educate people about mental health, increase awareness for your treatment center, and establish trust with your target audience. Consequently, you can improve your admission rate and build your brand quickly. You’ll not only help people, but you’ll also be able to create a business that provides a good source of income.  

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