The Need Keeps Growing for Behavioral and Mental Health Nurses

Content courtesy of UPMC.

Behavioral or mental health nurses are never short on opportunities. According to experts in the field, they play a significant role in psychiatry, and there’s a dire need for their services.

Nicholas Hatcher, APN

“Entering the mental health field as a nurse armed with a holistic model of care puts you at an advantage,” said Nicholas Hatcher, DNP, APN, AGACNP-BC, PMHNP-BC, DBT-C. “Starting at the beginning of nursing school, we are all trained to use the biopsychosocial model and incorporate several factors that impact physical and mental health. The complex nature of physical and mental illness comes as no surprise to a nurse who is accustomed to navigating through patient care operating on this model.”

What’s more, the need for behavioral health is everywhere, said Connie Vogel, PhD, RN, CNE.

“I think experienced nurses would agree … that anxiety, depression, PTSD, psychosis, and personality disorders can be found in any medical specialty area,” Vogel said. “Often, these conditions have to be managed along with a pertinent acute medical condition, and nurses in all settings do need an understanding of behavioral health conditions.”

Connie Vogel, RN

To help address patients’ mental health needs, a single nurse might work in several settings, and Hatcher is an example of this.

He primarily practices outpatient psychiatry in a community health setting and owns and operates Catharsis Health, a private practice dedicated to providing virtual psychiatric services in Washington State looking to potentially expand its reach.

“[I am] hoping for expansion to other full-practice authority states in the near future,” Hatcher, who also works PRN (as needed) at a local hospital as a hospitalist/intensivist, explained.

Career Options From Private Practice to the Bedside

In inpatient psychiatric nursing settings, the nurse manages acute, urgent, and emergent psychiatric illness, such as acute suicidal or homicidal ideation, forensic examinations, acute withdrawal and detoxification, acute psychosis, etc.

In outpatient settings, nurses manage chronic and some acute psychiatric illnesses.

Career options in nursing can be narrowed down by population of interest. For instance, nurses might focus on an adult or child/adolescent population, according to Hatcher.

“I was told as a student that you could choose a specific psychiatric illness or subset of illnesses and succeed in a subspecialty practice given the severe shortage in mental health providers across the United States,” said Hatcher who, in addition to his other professional roles, is an adjunct professor of nursing at Cleveland State Community College in Cleveland, Tennessee, and at Husson University in Bangor, Maine. “So, if you wanted to specialize in the management of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, trauma disorders, substance use disorders, mood disorders, etc., you could certainly advance your understanding of this population and focus on the management of these specific conditions.”

Hatcher said psychiatric nurses work in several settings, including:

  • Outpatient general psychiatry
  • Inpatient psychiatry
  • Detoxification units
  • Addiction and rehabilitation
  • Forensic nursing
  • Nurse-driven counseling and coaching
  • Child and adolescent psychiatry
  • Consult-liaison psychiatry
  • Psychosomatic medicine
  • Geriatric psychiatry

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