Why We Need Psychiatric and Mental Health Nurses More Than Ever

Now more than ever, mental health is at the forefront of our conversations. We’re beginning to understand it to a greater degree than we ever used to as a society – to the extent that many organizations are changing their practices to offer better support in this area.

However, for some, these changes aren’t happening fast enough. There is still a huge gap in the provisions available to support those who need mental health support – whether they are in crisis or just need a little advice. 

Indeed, there seems to be a far larger number of individuals struggling with mental health issues than ever before. Is this really the case? If so, what can be done to resolve this issue and to provide help and treatment to those who need it.

In this article, we address current mental health data and explore why conversations surrounding this issue are currently so prevalent. We’ll also discuss the role of the psychiatric or mental health nurse – and why this job is now more vital than ever.

Is there a rise in mental health issues?

Data collected by Mental Health America over the past few years paints a damning picture of the current trajectory of both adult and youth mental health in the US.

This 2022 study reveals that 24.7% of American adults with a mental illness reported that their treatment-related needs had not been met. This number has not decreased since 2011.

Furthermore, there has been a 1.24% increase in the number of young people in the US who have suffered from at least one “major depressive episode” in the past year, with the number now standing at 15.08% of all American youth.

Some news sources have referred to this recent uptick as a “hidden” or “unseen” pandemic, with many blaming this rise in mental health issues on COVID-19 and the associated lockdowns.

Mental health post-COVID-19

There are many reasons why the COVID-19 pandemic has had a crippling effect on our nation’s mental health. These include:

  • The inevitable impact of isolation and ‘confinement’ on a person’s wellbeing during lockdown.
  • The loss of loved ones and the lack of closure due to restrictions surrounding hospitals and funerals during spikes.
  • Rising levels of unemployment as businesses have been affected by the pandemic.
  • The fear and consternation associated with living through a global crisis – and concern for its effect on friends, family and the future of society.
  • A reduced level of access to medical appointments and medication, resulting in key treatments being stopped or postponed.
  • A rise in substance misuse for the purpose of ‘self-medication’ – which, in many instances, may increase the likelihood of the user developing mental health complaints.

Of course, there have been other recent events that have exacerbated the already significant rise in mental health conditions across the world, including:

  • Recent political upheaval and a rise in politically motivated violence across the country.
  • International tensions and the concerns related to ongoing conflicts across the globe.
  • Greater financial pressure on individuals and families as a result of the pandemic (as mentioned above) and of international conflict.
  • The rising fear of climate change and a resulting sense of powerlessness.

Conditions on the rise

Instances of certain mental health conditions are currently increasing more than others. Diagnoses of the following are significantly on the rise:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety-related disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

While some diagnoses of this kind will be new, others may reflect an exacerbation of latent symptoms due to the stress of recent events.

As we discuss further below, the rise in recorded diagnoses may also be due to increased awareness of these conditions and their symptoms, and a slightly reduced level of stigma associated with seeking medical help when struggling with one’s mental health.

Greater awareness of psychiatric and mental conditions

It is possible to see at least some positivity in the burgeoning figures relating to psychiatric conditions. In some respects, this increase in numbers reflects the rise in mental health awareness that is sweeping the globe.

There are more individuals with official diagnoses than ever before – because awareness of certain conditions has helped those with suspected mental health conditions to seek advice and treatment instead of ‘suffering in silence’.

Individuals who may have previously ignored their symptoms are now far more likely to take action to fight their condition and to move towards a healthier, more comfortable way of living.

More vital conversations are being held ‘out in the open’. Discussing mental health is no longer as taboo as it once was. As a result, more people are hearing about it and a greater amount of information is being imparted.

Not only does this encourage those with suspected conditions to seek help and advice, but it also aids others in the community in developing their own understanding of mental and psychiatric health.

People are talking about it more, so you’re hearing about it more. This means that you – and others around you – are better equipped to support friends and loved ones who may be struggling with their mental health.

In turn, however, this increase in awareness has had a significant effect on the numbers applying for help from healthcare specialists. There is now greater pressure than ever on the medical industry to provide this new influx of mental health patients with the treatment they require.

The importance of psychiatric and mental health nurses

According to nursingtimes.net and the recent World Mental Health report from the World Health Organization, we desperately need more mental health nurses – not just in the US, but also around the world.

Nurses make up 44% of all mental health specialists globally. In the following sections, we’ll discuss the roles of psychiatric and mental health nurses – and explain why it is so vital for the medical industry to train and retain workers with expertise of this kind.

What does a psychiatric nurse do?

Psychiatric nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs)and must hold graduate degrees. It is possible to study for these qualifications in person at a specialist institution, or via an online MSN-PMHNP program.

On the other hand, psychiatric nurses only require a nursing diploma or a bachelor’s or associate degree in nursing.

Psychiatric or mental health nurses may work in a range of capacities within the medical field, but their most common duties are the evaluation of patients, the management and administration of patient medications, the provision of counseling services, and the development of ongoing treatment plans.

Some nurses with this specialism undertake home visits and work within communities, while others are employed to provide their services within a particular hospital or other medical establishment.

Other places that may employ psychiatric nurses include:

  • Schools and other educational facilities
  • Prisons
  • Rehabilitation centers

Psychiatric nurses are trained to work with patients with a wide range of mental health conditions, including but not limited to:

  • Psychosis
  • Schizophrenia
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Dementia

What does a mental health nurse do?

In most cases, the terms ‘psychiatric nurse’ and ‘mental health nurse’ can be used interchangeably. However, terminological preference may vary from state to state.

In some locations, the term ‘mental health nurse’ refers to healthcare professionals who are not qualified to prescribe, and instead specialize in counseling or the pastoral care of psychiatric patients.

Generally, however, either may be used to refer to the same job roles or positions.

What are mental health first aiders?

As a side note, over the last decade, there has been a significant rise in ‘mental health first aiders’ across the US – and, indeed, the world.

A mental health first aider is an individual who has been specially trained to recognize and respond to incidents of mental health crisis – as well as substance abuse – in the community or the workplace.

Many businesses are now appointing their own mental health first aiders. These are usually existing employees, often working in human resources or similar departments, who are tasked with responding to incidents involving mental health.

It is worth noting that while these individuals are often trained to set up ‘action plans’ or to hold interventions in order to assist people experiencing mental health crises, they rarely hold medical qualifications and cannot provide professional counseling, prescribe medication or diagnose conditions.

They may, however, disseminate information about certain conditions, offer a listening service, recommend that the individual in crisis seeks professional mental health support, or assess for risk of harm.

While mental health first aiders make a very positive addition to any workplace or community, roles of this kind are usually taken on voluntarily in addition to an existing professional position. They are not mental health nurses.

A mental health first aider does not hold the same qualifications as a psychiatric or mental health nurse, and while their assistance and support can be highly valuable, anyone experiencing issues associated with their mental health should always seek professional medical advice as a priority.

How to become a psychiatric or mental health nurse

Wherever you live, you can be certain that a nearby healthcare establishment or organization will probably be seeking qualified psychiatric or mental health nurses. 

Opportunities arise frequently in most cities and states, so if you have a nursing diploma or a bachelor’s or associate degree in nursing – as well as a registered nurse license and at least two years of relevant work experience – you should be able to find work as a psychiatric or mental health nurse.

In order to gain the required qualifications, you don’t have to attend an accredited course or go to a specialist medical school (unless you wish to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner). It is possible to study for a qualification of this kind online.

As with any field, the more work experience you gain, and the more qualifications you earn, the easier it will become to find work in more advanced, higher-paying roles as a nurse within the mental health sector.

As your career advances, you may decide to specialize in pediatric, teenage or elder mental health, or in the treatment of particular conditions. It’s a great idea to study your practice in depth, even after you graduate, as new discoveries and advancements are being made all the time in the psychiatric field.

Why become a psychiatric or mental health nurse?

As we have discussed above, the world is in desperate need of more mental health specialists, and nurses make up a significant proportion of the workforce within this field.

As a psychiatric nurse, you will be providing help to individuals urgently requiring advice, support and care, making this a hugely rewarding career.

Mental health nurses also tend to receive a fairly comfortable paycheck. According to nurse.org, the position attracts an average salary of $67,838, among the highest in the nursing sector.

This is more than $12,000 above the current American average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (calculated using the median weekly earnings of full-time workers within the second quarter of 2022).

What’s more, the huge level of demand for nurses within this sector means that you will never be short of a job. It is highly likely that you will find a nearby establishment or institution that is hiring for this position, whatever the state or city in which you reside.

If you’re planning to train to become a psychiatric or mental health nurse, we wish you all the very best with your studies. To get started, all you need to do is to seek out relevant and well-regarded online or campus-based courses that fit in with your current circumstances.

Psychiatric or mental health nursing is a very enriching career path with a great deal of stability, plenty of demand that shows no sign of waning, and many opportunities for progression.