The Role of Mental Health Nurses

My Health Career was lucky enough to have Adjunct Associate Professor Kim Ryan, CEO of the Australian College of Mental Health Nurses (ACMHN) write a post about mental health nursing. So let’s hand it over to Ms Ryan….

“I am the CEO of the ACMHN and a Credentialed Mental Health Nurse™. I have worked in many areas within mental health, and have always felt very privileged to be a mental health nurse, being able to work with people at times when they are most vulnerable, and that so many in our community don’t understand and shun. Mental health nursing is a wonderful career, you will meet some great characters, you will laugh and you will cry, but most of all you will make a difference to people’s lives.

I have been asked to tell you about the role of a mental health nurse. It is not always easy to describe, as the role is complex, however there is a definition that I think captures it well, which is that of the Psychiatric- Mental Health Nursing, American Psychiatric Nurses Associations:
Psychiatric- Mental Health Nursing is a specialised area of nursing practice committed to promoting mental health through the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of human responses to mental health problems and psychiatric disorders. Psychiatric-mental health nursing, a core mental health profession, employs a purposeful use of self as its art and a wide range of nursing, psychosocial and neurobiological theories and research evidence as it science.

But what is the use of self? Hildegard Peplau, known as the ‘mother of psychiatric nursing’, coined the phrase therapeutic use of self. Therapeutic use of self is forming a trusting relationship that provides comfort, safety, and non-judgmental acceptance of patients, to help them improve their health status. It calls for self-awareness and the use of effective communication techniques.

So, being a mental health nurse calls on people to be self-aware and understand the importance of the art and science of mental health nursing.

Mental health nursing is a specialised branch of nursing with a focus on the care of people with mental health problems. Mental health nurses work with their clients to promote psychological well-being and emotional health and physical well-being. This can be working with their clients to understand their mental health conditions, to learn how to manage their symptoms and be aware of what can exacerbate their mental health condition.

Mental health nurses work with clients who suffer from conditions like anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and bi polar disorder. There are, of course, many more.

Mental health nursing is varied and interesting. There are a range of skills that mental health nurses require, such as mental health promotion and prevention, mental health assessment and interventions, specialist counselling and psychotherapy, medication management, direct nursing care, education and training, and research and evaluation.

Mental health conditions do not chose and, as such, mental health nurses work with people from all cultures, all religions and socio-economic backgrounds.
Collaboration is essential to good mental health practice, so mental health nurses work collaboratively with a range of other health professionals, including other nurses, doctors, psychologists and other allied health professionals, as part of a multidisciplinary team.

Advocacy is an important aspect of nursing, and particularly in mental health nursing. People with mental health conditions are often stigmatised and marginalised in our communities.

Where do mental health nurses work?
Mental health nurses work in specialist mental health settings and generalist settings across the age and illness spectrum – from perinatal and infant mental health, child and adolescent mental health, adult and older adult mental health – and across health promotion, early intervention and primary practice, community-based (acute, medium and longer- term), generalist inpatient (e.g. emergency departments) and acute, sub-acute and forensic inpatient settings. Specialised programs may focus on people who experience particular mental health conditions. They work in a variety of clinical roles such as community mental health, consultation-liaison (in emergency departments and general hospitals), private practice, primary care e.g. with GPs, mental health units, forensic services.  They also work in a variety of other roles such as universities, policy positions, government advisory positions, and nursing organisations.

Education
With an undergraduate degree in nursing you can register to practice as a nurse and work in most mental health settings. However, the Australian College of Mental Health Nurses (ACMHN) defines a specialist mental health nurse as a nurse who has undertaken a post-graduate mental health nursing course, starting at the Graduate Diploma level. Specialist mental health nurses commonly also undertake additional training in specific psychological therapies.

What is a Credentialed Mental Health Nurse™?
The Credential for Practice Program® is an initiative of the ACMHN and has established the only nationally consistent recognition for specialist mental health nurses in Australia. The Credential recognises the skills, expertise and experience of nurses who are practising as specialist mental health nurses. It demonstrates to employers, professional colleagues, consumers and carers that an individual nurse has achieved the professional standard for practice in mental health nursing.”

To find out more about mental health nursing from the Australian College of Mental Health Nurses, check out their website: www.acmhn.org

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