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How to become a mental health nurse

If you’re a compassionate person with good communication skills, a job as a mental health nurse could be perfect for you. Mental health nursing is a challenging but very rewarding and worthwhile career. We’ve put together this post to give you an overview of how to become a mental health nurse, and what the job involves.

What does a mental health nurse do?

Mental health nurses support people with a wide range of mental illnesses – that might mean helping someone with stress and anxiety issues, or more serious problems such as personality disorders and drug addiction. 

Mental health nurse working with elderly
Mental health nurses can work in residental homes for the

As a mental health nurse, you would help patients to cope with their conditions and lead fulfilling lives. One day you might be assisting your patient to take the right medication, and on another day you could be helping someone access therapy or social activities.

 Mental health nursing involves working with a range of people, from children to adults, or with a specific group such as offenders or people who struggle with eating disorders.  

This video from the NHS features a mental health nurse discussing her work with children and young people: 

Mental health nurses can be based in hospitals and psychiatric wards, but these days a lot of mental health nursing is done out in the community. This means you could be working in:

  • Community mental health centres.
  • Residential homes for the elderly.
  • Doctor’s surgeries.
  • Private clinics.

Read Will’s story of what led him into the career and what it’s really like to be a mental health nurse. 

Is mental health nursing right for me?

Mental health nursing can be physically and emotionally demanding, but if you’re a calm, empathetic and caring person, with a real drive to help people, then the career could be a great fit for you.

Good people skills are important if you want to become a mental health nurse. You should be sympathetic and non-judgemental, with excellent communication and listening skills. Mental health nurses are also warm and show understanding towards their patients.

Mental health nurse working with elderly
Mental health nurses have good listening skills and show
empathy from their mental  health nurse training

To pursue a career in mental health nursing, you also need the ability to:

  • Work as part of a team.
  • Stay calm in tricky situations.
  • Gain a patient’s trust.
  • Think on your feet.
  • Understand body language
  • Solve problems.
  • Be confident and courageous.

Tell me how to become a mental health nurse. What qualifications do I need?

To become a mental health nurse, you need to have a degree in mental health nursing that is approved by the Nursing and Midwifery Council. Entry requirements vary for each university, but you’ll normally need to have at least five GSCEs at grade C or above, and at least two A-levels, including a science or health-related subject.

You can apply for the degree course via UCAS.

You could also prepare for the mental health nurse training by doing an apprenticeship in healthcare – for example you could work towards a qualification like the Level 3 Diploma in Clinical Healthcare Support.

Before applying for a degree in mental health nursing, you can give yourself the edge by doing work experience. Any work experience that involves caring for others – such as in a hospital, with a mental health charity, or community work – will look great on your application. 

What does mental health nurse training involve?

Mental health nurse courses typically last around three years. You’ll usually get the chance to learn in a clinical setting, such as a hospital or prison, working alongside qualified nurse mentors. 


The course will typically cover a lot of different areas, including: 

  • Theory of mental health nursing.
  • Developing teamwork skills.
  • Physiology.
  • Counselling.
  • Medicine management. 

Read this next: How to become a nurse

How much will I get paid?

The starting salary for mental health nursing is around £21,000. A newly qualified mental health nurse can earn up to £28,180 a year. A more experienced mental health nurse can earn up to £47,559.  

Lead image, nurse helping older patient, listening skills all via Flickr