A Comprehensive Overview of the Duties And Responsibilities of Psychiatric Mental Health Nurses

The US faces an unprecedented mental health crisis because of a significant shortage of mental health professionals. According to recent data, roughly 122 million Americans, or 37% of the US population, live in areas with a mental health professional shortage.

While the shortage is a significant issue for rural and urban America, it can be music to the ears of individuals wanting to become a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP). As a mental health nurse, you will evaluate a patient’s condition and try to improve it. You will help people live a higher quality of life and inspire them to overcome challenges. Mental health nursing is meaningful work and provides an opportunity to be the change you want to see.

However, the advantages do not stop there. Becoming a mental health nurse also widens your career path and provides job security, not to mention a handsome paycheck. Data shows that US psychiatric nurses earn an average base salary of more than $127,000 annually, potentially up to $200,000 depending on your experience, skills and qualifications.

What is a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner?

PMHNPs are registered nurses with specialized training and expertise that enable them to care for and support individuals with mental health conditions and improve their mental wellbeing. Their duties and responsibilities depend on where they work, their training and the patient requirements. They work in healthcare settings such as long-term care centers, rehabilitation centers, private homes, correctional facilities, community mental health centers, private companies, schools, and behavioral care companies.

Mental health nurses work with every population segment, though they can acquire specialty training to treat specific populations, such as individuals with gambling, substance use and eating disorders. Contrary to popular belief, PHMNPs cannot treat specific conditions. Instead, they work with other healthcare professionals, such as psychiatrists, psychotherapists and social workers, to create and implement comprehensive mental healthcare plans.

What do psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners do?

As mentioned, the duties and responsibilities of PMHNPs depend on several factors, but everyday duties include conducting intake screening and assessments, providing community education and providing case management. With an in-depth mental health evaluation, PMHNPs can better identify the root cause of a patient’s distress and ensure that they receive appropriate treatment in an emotionally safe environment.

Depending on the patient’s condition, you may also ask for insights from friends and family members to establish deteriorating cognitive capacity and develop care options. Other daily duties and responsibilities that you might do as a PMHNP include the following:

  • Educate patients and their families about mental health issues and lifestyle factors that can improve or worsen the condition.
  • Administer and monitor treatment.
  • Promote self-care and help patients achieve personal goals.
  • Practice crisis intervention.
  • Provide case management and coordinate care with other healthcare professionals.

PMHNPs are also expected to promote mental health in various ways. This might be through working with children with traumatic experiences, soldiers coming home from the war, or adults and teenagers with mental illness. Alternatively, they can shape mental policy by guiding policymakers in understanding symptoms and finding ways to support individuals with mental health disorders.

Doing so allows society to demystify mental health disorders, while prompting individuals to come forward and seek help. As frontline mental healthcare members working toward meeting several patient requirements, PMHNPs are vital in relating personal experiences of how policy impacts mental healthcare. Using their experience and background, they can shape policy and regulations within their communities and encourage ways to deal with the ongoing mental health crisis.

PMHNPs are also able to administer medications, and they educate their patients on their purpose, dosage and side effects. When administering medications, they consider the patient’s assessment and parameters to ensure appropriateness and accuracy. If friends and family members are present, PMHNPs also inform them regarding the different aspects of the medications administered for a specific condition.

Furthermore, PMHNPs can develop personalized care and treatment plans that address the patient’s health needs and the goal they would like to work toward. This makes it easier for PMHNPs to concentrate on enhancing and maintaining the patient’s health and dealing with issues as they occur. Additionally, treatment plans empower PMHNPs to adjust their strategies continuously to meet the patient’s needs.

It is important to note that PMHNPs are different from psychiatrists. While their careers overlap in a number of ways, their training and background are somewhat different. Unlike psychiatrists, who are required to attend medical school, PMHNPs must only obtain an advanced nursing degree, typically a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) from established academic institutions such as Rockhurst University Online, to start practicing. The MSN degree offered by Rockhurst University takes two years and gives students the opportunity to specialize in various areas such as psychiatric mental health nursing.

How to become a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner

Before becoming a PMHNP, you must obtain an associate or bachelor’s degree and a Registered Nurse (RN) license. You’ll also need to complete additional training and gain at least two years of clinical experience. Once you’ve completed this, you can enroll in an online psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner program to gain an extensive background of the professional inner workings of the industry.

It would help if you became certified as a psych nurse through the American Nurses Credentialing Center. This means completing roughly 2,000 hours of clinical experience in a mental health care setting within three years of passing the NCLEX-RN examination. Alternatively, you can complete 30 hours of psychiatric nursing-specific continuing education within the same timeframe after passing the NCLEX-RN.

You may also consider specialization and certifications to collaborate with integrated mental healthcare providers and consulting firms. While pursuing a specialization, you must expect more lectures, practical examinations and seminars as mental health nursing deals with complex concepts and processes.

It is worth noting, however, that earning an advanced nursing degree is only half the battle of becoming a successful PMHNP. To succeed in the field, you must also develop essential abilities such as critical thinking, compassion, empathy, consistency and reliability.


As the current healthcare system deals with an overwhelming increase in patients with mental health issues, there is no better time to become a PMHNP. Working in this role, you can help patients navigate cognitive challenges and improve their likelihood of living normal lives.

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