Mental health nurse

Your role is to promote and support a person’s recovery, helping them live independent and fulfilling lives. 

Why choose mental health nursing

There are many reasons why you should consider a career as a mental health nurse. It offers you the chance to make a difference, a high degree of flexibility and a career with excellent employment prospects. 

"I also love that I have a guaranteed job for life, which I enjoy – a lot of my friends are jealous!" Cherie Lawrence, mental health nurse. 

Read Cherie's story

Female nurse with male student nurse

Working life 

Your role is to build effective relationships with people who use mental health services, and also with their relatives and carers. You might help one person to take their medication correctly while advising another about relevant therapies or social activities. 

Success comes from being able to establish trusting relationships quickly and to help individuals understand their situation and get the best possible outcome. You'll be trained about the legal context of your work and also be able to identify whether and when someone may be at risk of harming themselves or someone else.

You'll usually based in hospitals, for example on a psychiatric ward or specialist unit, or in the community where you could work in a community health centre or in someone's home. If you work in a residential setting, you may do shifts and provide 24-hour care.

You'll work as part of a team which includes GPs, psychologists, social workers, psychiatrists, occupational therapists, arts therapists and healthcare assistants.

'The biggest shame of all would be to overlook such a fantastic career opportunity, with all its life-changing experiences'. Christopher Dzikiti, modern matron

Read Chris's story 

Entry requirements

To become a mental health nurse the main route is through a degree course at university. Entry requirements for these courses can vary depending on where and how you’d like to study so it's important to check with universities. You can find a university mental health nursing course to suit you using our Course Finder tool.

Typically you'll need a minimum of five GCSEs at grade 4/C or above, possibly in English language or literature and a science subject, plus two A levels or equivalent level 3 qualifications for an undergraduate degree. Some universities may ask for three A levels or equivalent. If you already have a degree, you might be able to study for a postgraduate qualification. 

There are other routes into mental health nursing such as nurse degree apprenticeships and nursing associate apprenticeships.

New annual payments 

You'll be entitled to receive at least £5,000 a year towards your studies while at university. Your personal circumstances may mean you could receive more. And the good news? You'll never have to pay it back.

Other routes into mental health nursing

Nursing degree apprenticeships are available with some employers and numbers are expected to continue to grow. Increasing opportunities to apply for nursing associate apprenticeships are also expected. This can lead to nursing degrees or nurse degree apprenticeships. 

Must have skills 

Don’t forget - academic qualifications aren’t everything. Communication and interpersonal skills are crucial, as well as strong judgement, be able to teach advise and manage people. 

If you're applying for a role either directly in the NHS or a university course, you'll be asked to show how you think the values of the NHS Constitution apply in your everyday work. 

Training and career development 

Once you have qualified as a mental health nurse, there are a wide range of opportunities. You could specialise in working with children and adolescents, as a primary mental health worker; or women or in a field such as transcultural psychiatry, looking at how mental disorders and their treatment can be influenced by cultural and ethnic factors. You may want to work or move into management, teaching or clinical research. 

Pay and benefits 

Your standard working week will be around 37.5 hours on shift pattern which can include nights, early starts, evenings, weekends and bank holidays.  As a mental health nurse, you’ll be paid on the Agenda for Change (AFC) pay system, typically starting at band 5.

You’ll also have access to our generous pension scheme and health service discounts, as well as 27 days of annual leave plus bank holidays.

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