Mental Health Nursing Degrees


Psychiatric/Mental Health Nursing Degree Programs (PMHNP)
Psychiatric (Mental) health nursing is a field of nursing that trains registered nurses to become competent care givers for mentally ill patients and their families.

Registered nurses working as mental health nurses become experts in caring for the rather uncontrollable mental patients. This health condition also causes distress and denial to immediate families and communities of the affected patients. In this case, PMH nurses also provide counseling and support to the affected families.

How to become a Psychiatric/Mental Nurse

In terms of education, psychiatric health nurses can follow a number of education pathways. For many PMH nurses, the starting point is a generalist basis in a mental health facility. If you want to become a specialist, the advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) graduate degrees in the field of mental health are your choices.  At the APRN graduate level, you further have the choice to become:

  • Psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioner
  • Psychiatric/mental health clinical nurse specialist

Below are common education pathways in becoming a psychiatric nurse:

Associate and Bachelor of Science in nursing programs

These programs are designed to prepare registered nurses on a generalist basis. The associate degree program takes two years to complete while the Bachelor of Science in nursing (BSN) takes four years. The 2-year program is offered in community colleges while the BSN can be completed in a university or four-year college. Graduating from any of these two enable you to become academically eligible to write the NCLEX-RN exam.

Upon graduation, you can work in a mental health special ward, facility, home or an exclusive mental health hospital. Since nurses at this level are not experts in the field, they perform their PMH nursing duties on a generalist basis, usually under the supervision of an advanced practice PMH nurse or physician.  Such nurses cannot give medication or devise complex treatment plans for patients and are restricted to basic patient care.

It should not feel intimidating working a RN since, nurses who later become APRN in mental health nursing more often than not develop their foundation and interest from this on-the-job experience. It is therefore the best and quickest way to get into the psychiatric health nursing profession.

Advanced Practice Psychiatric/Mental Health Graduate Nursing Programs

At graduate level, precisely with the Master of Science is where you become an expert in the field and even acquire the autonomy to practice independently. Graduate PMH nurses usually acquire prescriptive authority and become supervisors, policy and decision makers in matters pertinent to the profession. They receive extensive education in assessment, diagnosis, psychotherapy, consultation/liaison and psychopharmacology.

  • Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)

This Master of Science degree track prepares highly competent nurses who are knowledgably in all areas of mental health. It accepts two types of candidates; traditional post BSN and direct entry students with a baccalaureate degree in non-nursing fields.  Some colleges also have PMHNP bridging programs to enable associate degree registered nurses to enroll for this graduate option. Mental health bridging programs can be taken by students that do not feel necessarily compelled to taking the BSN degree prior to the psychiatry specialty.

The traditional mental health nurse practitioners programs usually take 2 years to complete on a full time basis. Variations are observed in online mental health MSN programs and part time study formats. On the other hand, the bridging and direct entry program can take a relatively longer time, usually 3 years on a full time basis.

  • Psychiatric Clinical Nurse Specialist

Psychiatric clinical nurse specialist (CNS) is also a Master of Science degree option that interested students can take. Clinical nurse specialist degrees are geared more towards consultative and policy making focus than real practice as compared to the nurse practitioner option. Nurse specialist mental nursing degrees take the almost the same study plans as the PMHNP with the slight changes in specialty courses.

The outcome of CNS psychiatric degrees programs are psychiatric nurse consultants, researchers on mental disorders like dementia, bipolar syndromes, schizophrenia, psychosis among others.  Graduates also become implementers of mental health polices, ethical decision makers, family counselors among other administrative roles touching on mental health nursing.

  • Post-MSN Certificate in Mental Health Nursing

Graduate certificates in mental health nursing are offered to MSN students wishing to become certified in this specialty. Candidates for this program can be registered nurse certified in other MSN areas or MSN generalists.

Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) in Mental Health

Though not very common, the DNP mental health degree is also available as a terminal nursing degree.  In most cases, this program is found in the form of a post BSN-DNP program. It enables students become expert psychiatric nurses without necessarily having to follow the MSN to DNP pathway.

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