Around one in five adults in the US suffer from mental health issues at some point in their lives. With millions of people requiring treatment and support, the role of psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) cannot be understated.
Psychiatric nurse practitioners play a vital role in providing care for patients struggling with mental health disorders and conditions. This is because they adopt a holistic approach to care that begins with an initial informed assessment and continues through to an accurate diagnosis before providing targeted treatment, support, and assistance.
This comprehensive level of care helps people with a wide range of conditions, such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder. As stigmas around mental health disorders dissipate and more people come forward for help, the demand for PMHNPs will only grow.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects the number of jobs for nurse practitioners to soar 45% during the ten years to 2029, in part to meet skills shortages as screenings for anxiety and depression also rise. National estimates also suggest there will be a supply deficit of 250,000 mental health workers by 2025.
You can make a real difference, provide the support people desperately need, and boost your own career prospects by becoming a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. If you already have a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), you can specialize in this branch of nursing by completing a certified program at a leading university and attaining a post-master’s certificate.
What is more, you can complete this program completely online, so you do not have to worry about relocating to a physical campus or disrupting your busy professional life. With PHMPs being increasingly sought after, it is a great time to advance your career by opting for a clinical track and potentially becoming an advanced nurse practitioner.
Psychiatric nurse practitioners have a range of responsibilities. While the tasks they undertake are dependent on their specialized niche of care and healthcare environment, there is often a common throughline. For example, it is possible to specialize in military mental health or child and adolescent mental health.
In both environments, PHMPs will do everything they can to assess and understand what a patient needs and outline a path forward with treatment and support. PHMPs need to showcase strong critical thinking and problem skills to work through the variables and come up with a diagnosis and plan tailored for each patient.
Mental health is very different from physical wellbeing as there is not always a tried and tested approach to adopt. There are many factors that can affect what a person is going through, and PHMPs will need to become familiar with a patient’s mood, stressors, and behaviors to develop a personal and targeted treatment strategy. This often requires liaising with other healthcare professionals.
PHMPs will also need to be computer-literate as there is a range of technologies and devices that help to coordinate the process of evaluating and diagnosing patients. Nurses might have to, for example, use instant messaging services to talk to patients and contact crisis centers, load up mobile apps to track a patient’s behavioral patterns, and manage and update a patient’s electronic records.
As an extension of this, psychiatric nurse practitioners will complete a range of admin tasks such as making referrals and ordering lab tests. These tasks, while not directly related to the patient, can be crucial in smoothing the process from diagnosis to treatment, which can only benefit the patient who gets a higher level of coordinated care.
All these processes can play a key role in helping patients with mental health problems. Nurses in this niche do not see a patient just once to provide treatment – instead, it is an ongoing journey over time. This is why PHMPs develop positive relationships with patients, which benefit everyone involved and vastly improve outcomes.
Another vital aspect of care in this niche is education. Rather than merely treating the disorder or problem, PHMPs will try to bring about a fundamental change in a patient’s thinking and outlook by educating them about positive habits and behaviors. This education also extends to close family and friends, who can act as an additional support system in helping patients improve their mental health.
PHMPs might also have to intervene on a basic level to put better structures and systems in place to support patients. This could involve recommending sleep schedules to improve sleep restoration and hygiene and outlining diets for healthy nutrition. They can also recommend relaxation and coping strategies, all of which can help to improve the mental health of a patient. Simple and brief interventions can actually make a notable difference, and nurses will need to be attuned to small gestures and actions that can support those struggling.
The work of a psychiatric nurse practitioner involves many branches of psychology and psychiatry. With a knowledge of these complex medical fields and conditions, PHMPs have the skills to bring about lasting change in a patient. They also work with professionals in neurology and endocrinology, among other disciplines, to ensure the treatment is based on evidence and research for each patient.
The World Health Organization (WHO) states that care should go beyond mental health support as there are often physical factors that can affect how people think and feel. The UN agency believes that “health workers must not limit intervention to improving mental health but also attend to the physical health care needs of children, adolescents, and adults with mental disorders, and vice versa, because of the high rates of comorbid physical and mental health problems and associated risk factors, for example, high rates of tobacco consumption, that go unaddressed.”
This is where the collaboration with other professionals comes in again. PHMPs are not expected to be experts in physical wellbeing, but they should be aware of how these factors can contribute to mental health disorders. The WHO says that screening for both mental and physical health conditions at the same time can be beneficial as there can be strong links between the two.
PHMPs are also key in improving inefficiencies and problems with systems of care as they have an active role in providing input and feedback and implementing change. By becoming more influential, nurses can raise the level of care in departments and institutions, which can be transformative for patient care. It is clear then that nurses with this specialty can make a profound, positive impact on patients and broader society.
Mental health nurses also thrive in the minutiae of day-to-day tasks, which usually include one-on-one therapy sessions and immediate guidance and assistance. Nurses will work in psychiatric wards, intensive care units, and specialist units, where they will be expected to counsel and treat patients by administering medication, as well as conduct risk assessments and monitor the progress of treatment.
Direct involvement with patients is often one of the most rewarding aspects of the jobs for psychiatric nurse practitioners. For good reason, too, as this is what attracted many nurses to the role – knowing they can make a real and lasting difference. Mental health nurses also try to extend a patient’s network by suggesting social activities that could help them and by talking through appropriate therapies. All of this contributes to an excellent level of care.
Through all this, nurses never lose sight of the patient and will treat them as human beings and keep them “in the loop” by discussing everything with them. PHMPs will assess patients and talk through the next stages of diagnosis and treatment with them. They will then work closely with patients to better understand their disorders and what they are going through. Nurses will offer sage advice and use sound judgment throughout to help and care for the patient in the best way possible.
Psychiatric nurse, Portia Nyamakanga, says the incredible variety of tasks is one of the most appealing aspects of the job. She notes: “Regardless of where I’ve worked, no two days were ever the same, and every day has been an opportunity to build on relationships and support people to live their best lives. I’ve had a great career, and if you like working with people, being a mental health nurse might be for you”.
Becoming a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner can be an incredibly uplifting and fulfilling job in many ways, as you are putting people on the path to recovery and making a fundamental difference in people’s lives. The day-by-day responsibilities are varied, but each task, however small, plays a vital role in raising the quality of care and delivering support to people when they need it the most. And with skills shortages set to continue for a while, there has never been a better time for you to specialize in this area to help people and advance your professional career.