Your guide to becoming a mental health nurse image

Roughly one-quarter of people in the UK will experience some kind of mental health problem in any given year. As our understanding of mental health improves, there is a growing demand for healthcare professionals in mental health-related fields.

One such role is mental health nursing. Read on to learn what a mental health nurse does, how much they earn, and how to become one.

What is a mental health nurse?

The role of a mental health nurse involves helping patients with mental health conditions, giving them the support they require to take greater control of their condition.

Mental health conditions can arise in various different ways. They might be triggered by a challenging or traumatic event, such as substance abuse or the death of a loved one. Or they could be caused by chronic conditions that require long-term care and support throughout the patient’s life.

Whatever the case, mental health nurses must be able to quickly build trusting relationships with their patients and work with them to deliver the best possible outcomes. They may also need to identify whether a patient is at risk of harming themselves or others.

Nursing skillsets of all kinds are currently in high demand due to the national shortage of healthcare staff. Abigail Holt, Business Manager at Michael Page Healthcare, commented:

The healthcare system in the UK is currently facing a massive backlog due to following the Covid-19 pandemic. When it comes to mental health nurses in particular, demand has shot up due to the stresses that people have experienced over the last couple of years, with repeated lockdowns and so much uncertainty. Having more options available to them, more and more nurses are opting for the more flexible work-life balance and higher rates offered by agencies.

What are the roles and responsibilities of a mental health nurse?

Given the wide-ranging nature of the role, mental health nurses have many different tasks and responsibilities. On any given day, they might find themselves:

  • Carrying out one-to-one therapy sessions
  • Holding conversations with patients about their mental health conditions
  • Building impactful relationships with parents, and possibly also their families
  • Working to understand a patient’s mental health history and the cause of their condition
  • Encouraging patients to take part in beneficial activities, such as art therapy
  • Preparing and updating patient records with the latest patient information
  • Assessing patients and providing the necessary support
  • Administering medication and keeping track of the effects
  • Ensuring compliance with all relevant legal requirements
  • Conducting patient risk assessments

With such varied responsibilities, mental health nurses must possess an array of hard and soft skills, from an understanding of psychology to the ability to remain calm in stressful environments.


How much does a mental health nurse make?

Starting salaries for mental health nurses begin at around £25,000 pa - £28,000 pa. However, it is possible to progress up the banding scale fast, with many nurses quickly reaching bands six and seven. At these levels, salaries would range from £32,000 pa to £45,000 pa.

What hours do mental health nurses work?

Mental health nurses typically work for around 37 hours a week. As shift workers, they should expect to work evenings, weekends, and bank holidays.

How to become a mental health nurse

For many candidates, the route into mental health nursing involves studying toward a university degree. However, this isn’t the only option, with other mental health nurses reaching the position after completing an apprenticeship or transitioning from a different nursing role. In this section, we’ll discuss each of those approaches and what they entail.

Completing a university degree

The Nursing & Midwifery Council approves dozens of mental health nursing degrees at institutions across the UK (you can find a full list of approved courses here). Some of those degrees are fully focused on becoming a mental health nurse, while others allow you to study mental health nursing alongside another area of nursing.

Full-time university courses typically take three years to complete, although if you already have a degree in a related field (such as health, psychology, social work, or life sciences), you may be able to skip straight to the second year of a nursing degree.

To study mental health nursing at university, you’ll typically need:

  • 4 – 5 GCSEs, including maths, English, and science, at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), or equivalent
  • 2 – 3 A levels, including a science subject
  • A level 3 diploma or access to higher education qualification in health, nursing, or science

Enrolling in an apprenticeship

If you prefer to learn in a more hands-on setting, you may be able to sign up for a degree apprenticeship in nursing, which takes about four years to complete and combines on-the-job training with academic learning.

To be accepted onto a nursing apprenticeship, you’ll need four or five GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), plus some A levels (the number and grades vary from one apprenticeship to another). Bear in mind that taking the apprenticeship route also requires the backing of your employer.

Transitioning from a different nursing role

ifIf you’re already a nurse, but want to transition to the world of mental health nursing, you may be eligible to qualify through an 18-month mental health nursing conversion course. Again, you’ll need the backing of your employer.

Are there any other ways to become a mental health nurse?

Some people qualify as mental health nurses via the armed forces. For more information, visit the Army, Royal Air Force, or Royal Navy websites.

What’s next?

Ready to apply for a mental health nurse role? Browse our mental health nurse vacancies, or submit your CV today.


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