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Why Should I Become a Mental Health Nurse?

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Why become a mental health nurse?

A mental health nurse is involved in every aspect of patient care, from their assessment to the implementation of their care plan. These clients may be suffering from anxiety and depression, eating disorders or addictions to alcohol and drugs. To provide this comprehensive level of care, mental health nurses will work alongside all types of healthcare professionals – including doctors, social workers, occupational therapists and psychiatrists.

As a mental health nurse, the active involvement and varying level of support that you’ll provide a patient means that no two days will look the same. These days will not be without their challenges, but if you are passionate about working with people then you have the foundations for building a rewarding career. From there, you can develop key skills to give you the strength to offer your best level of care to patients. Here’s what you need to know: 

The qualifications that you'll need

The most recognised academic path to becoming a mental health nurse is to get a complete degree in nursing. This three-year course will give you the choice to specialise in adult, children, learning disability or mental health. To be accepted on this course you’ll need two or three A-levels and five GCSEs. If you’ve completed a relevant health, biological, health or social sciences degree you can convert this and complete a two-year postgraduate course. To help meet the rising demand the government are looking at more accessible routes to becoming a mental health nurse, including new initiatives such as the nursing associate apprenticeship and Nurse First.

You’ll need more than qualifications...

This profession requires someone with a caring and empathetic nature. You’ll need to be compassionate towards patients, but the highly sensitive cases will also require you to develop resilience and adaptability. These skills will give you the strength to continue providing a high level of care even in the most difficult of situations. You can build your resilience from being self-aware and thinking critically, something that you will learn in your nurse training and throughout your career.

No two days will be the same

During your nursing training, you can complete placements both in general mental health and children’s mental health. Each day will differ from the previous because you will be required to provide a different level of care to each patient. The commonality will be the essential need to build a relationship with them and their support system. For example, you may need to treat a paranoid patient who believes that their medication is harmful to them, so developing a personal connection is fundamental to get the patient to trust you and accept your help. Similarly, developing a relationship with an adolescent suffering from psychosis may be as simple as playing a game with them, but this can encourage them to confide in you and begin their recovery process.

With seniority, you have the option to specialise in various fields, one area being home visits. Those who suffer from mental illnesses that prevent them from leaving their home, such as anxiety and dementia, will require a home visit from a mental health specialist. The purpose of these visits will be to work with the patient and their family or carer to identify how you can improve their health and quality of life. Another area to specialise in is to work with offenders. The environments will range from open prisons to high-security estates and female estates and will present unique challenges. This presents you with the opportunity to further develop your resilience and empathy as you will be exposed to more diverse – and potentially high-risk – situations.

The challenges that you will face

Clients may display damaging behaviour, and this can be especially difficult to witness when you are trying to help them. Understanding the root of the behaviour may be the biggest challenge. With compassion and patience, you can help a patient realise their destructive behaviour and create a care plan with them.

Another challenge is the demanding nature of a social care nurse career. At times the flexible shift-pattern can create challenges for your work-life balance. It’s your job to take care of others, but this shouldn’t be at the expense of failing to notice how you could improve your own health. Tips such as these, as well as practising mindfulness can help to prevent burnout.

You may also face challenges regarding the many stigmas surrounding mental health, which remains a battle to have recognised as being an essential component of a person’s physical health.

What you’ll take from this profession

If you’re willing to take on the challenge, then prepare yourself for an exciting and meaningful career. The diverse work settings that mental health nurses work in mean they are considered both generalists and specialists. You will have the expertise and knowledge to give an overview of a patient’s health, both physically and mentally. This ability to provide a fast and informed diagnosis of the patient’s overall health makes you invaluable to a mental health team. Specialising in an area will present niche career progression options; completing further qualifications can get you promoted to an advanced nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist (CNS), or a nurse consultant.

Working with other people and knowing that you are making a difference in their lives is what makes the rewards outweigh the challenges. You will notice small improvements in your patients – they may begin to engage more in conversations and become more cooperative. And when a patient takes those larger steps like leaving their home and reintegrating into society you will know that you have been a part of that progress. Just as you are supporting individuals through the difficult scenarios you will receive support from your colleagues. Emotional situations bring people together and that is why nurses experience a unique bond. Not every profession can turn co-workers into a family. It’s important to embrace your colleagues and turn to them when you have issues that you want to share.

How far has mental health support come and the direction that it is going in 

Our approach to mental health care has changed drastically in the last 50 years, beginning with the closing of asylums and institutions. Experts are still battling to improve the quality of care that we provide some of society’s most vulnerable people. There remain locked rehabilitation wards which are not providing patients with the skills they need to live independently. Without the support from trained experts, they will remain in these institutions and fail to reintegrate back into society. This means there is real potential for mental health nurse to be a part of a big change and reform the way that we treat those suffering from a mental illness. By 2066 26% of the population will be 65 years and over, and there will be an increased demand for mental health nurses to care for patients with illnesses such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. This presents promising career prospects and job security.

A career that could take you anywhere

At Service Care Solutions, we want to help you find a job where you can make a difference in other people’s lives. View the range of mental health jobs that we have available around the UK.
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