what is a mental health nurse?

A mental health issue is often triggered by stressful life situations such as financial problems, a loved one's death, divorce, substance abuse, neurodivergence, or simply due to one's upbringing. Mental illness can also form from the interaction of multiple genes. Some people have long-term chronic conditions that require lifelong management. As a mental health nurse, you build effective relationships with patients who rely on mental health services and their relatives.

what does a mental health nurse do?

Your job involves helping patients take medication correctly and providing advice on social activities and therapies that can boost their recovery. You help them return to good mental health by ensuring they participate in therapy sessions. Mental health nurses work with their clients to promote psychological well-being, emotional health and physical well-being. This also means working with their clients to further understand their mental health condition and help them learn how to manage their symptoms.

As a mental health nurse, you will probably work in a hospital that offers psychiatric services. You work in a psychiatric ward, outpatient unit or psychiatric intensive care unit, administering treatment and diagnosing patients. You can also work in community facilities like GP surgeries, healthcare centres, residential homes and prisons. Your job is to support and inform the therapist of each patient's progress. You also update families on patients' progress and help them develop the appropriate support to aid recovery.

mental health nurse jobs

average salary of a mental health nurse

A mental health nurse earns a median salary of $90,000 annually in Australia. When you join the profession, your remuneration package will start at $80,000 and increase gradually. Mental health nurses with over five years of work experience take home $100,000 annually.

While hospitals and employers don't offer bonuses for working as a mental health nurse, you can increase your salary by working overtime. In addition, you receive various monetary and non-monetary allowances in the role. If you decide to transfer from a public employer to a private employer, the compensation is likely to  increase.

ways to increase the salary of a mental health nurse

You can boost your mental health nurse salary by improving your qualifications and skills. When you are a registered mental health nurse, you earn more than enrolled nurse practitioners. Specialising in some areas of mental health also increases your salary. For instance, working with age care nursing/patients attracts higher remuneration than drug and alcohol rehabilitation.

Want to know what you will earn as a mental health nurse? Check out what you are worth with our salary checker.

mental health nurse salary

types of mental health nurses

Types of mental health nurses depend on the area of specialisation:

  • child & adolescent mental health nurse: you work with children and adolescents that have been diagnosed with mental illness or mental health conditions.
  • paediatric mental health nurse: as a mental health nurse, you can help children with mental health conditions to thrive by administering recommended treatment. You talk to their families about ways to detect and address the symptoms of mental health conditions. Some children you help are suicidal, depressed or have eating disorders.
  • dementia mental health nurses: as a mental health nurse in memory clinics or patients' homes, you care for people diagnosed with Alzheimer's and dementia. You help the patient by suggesting coping strategies to enable them to remain independent for as long as possible.
  • drug rehabilitation mental health nurse: as a mental health nurse, you help people overcome dependency on various substances. You provide counselling sessions and access to other services to help them recover from their addiction.
smiling female with child
smiling female with child

working as a mental health nurse

Working as a mental health nurse involves dealing with patients with psychological and emotional problems. Therefore, the role requires specific qualities such as resilience to perform the duties and cope in the work environment.


mental health nurse education and skills

Some of the educational qualifications for mental health nurses include:

  • bachelor's degree: the first step toward a career as a mental health nurse is studying for a bachelor of nursing degree. The degree programme takes three years and qualifies you to become a registered nurse. When you don't have a bachelor's in nursing, your only option for working in mental health is to become an enrolled nurse. When you complete the nursing course, you need to apply for registration into the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia to practise as a registered nurse. 
  • work experience: even before becoming an accredited mental health nurse, you should gain experience in the role through internships. You can work in mental health units to support mental health practitioners and acquire skills.
  • complete an accredited course in mental health nursing: you need to study mental health nursing as a postgraduate specialism to become an accredited practitioner. During the training, you should have access to mental health practice. You can complete the postgraduate course online or on a full-time basis. Pursue an accredited graduate diploma or a master's in mental health nursing.
  • apply for mental health nursing credentials: when you complete your accreditation course, you must apply for credentialing at the Australian College of Mental Health Nurses. You will receive the accreditation if you have 12 months of experience as a mental health nurse and over three years of experience as a registered nurse.

skills and competencies

Some of the skills and competencies of a mental health nurse include:

  • caring personality: as a mental health nurse, you need to be empathetic to a patient's condition. If you put yourself in their shoes, you can understand the emotional and psychological turmoil they are going through and find solutions. A caring personality helps you extend compassion and be patient with demanding clients since you understand their condition.
  • quick decision-maker: as a mental health nurse, you must make snap decisions under pressure. For instance, you decide on the best de-escalation techniques to help a patient in an emergency. If the patient also needs medication to help them calm down, you should determine the type and dosage of the medication fast to alleviate suffering.
  • social perceptiveness: when handling patients, you will come across multiple cultures. You need to be perceptive and culturally alert to understand why people have specific reactions to some situations.
  • complex problem-solving abilities: working as a mental health nurse involves dealing with complex situations that require tactful problem-solving techniques. If you are a critical thinker, you can find ways to solve the issues.

FAQs about working as a mental health nurse

Here are the most asked questions about working as a mental health nurse:

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