- 12 January 2011
- 18 min read
How to become a Mental Health Nurse RMN
There are many RMN Jobs in the UK, and mental health nurses work in every healthcare environment. Read our guide to find out how to succeed when choosing this as a career.
A Mental Health Nurse (RMN) is a qualified registered nurse with specialist training in mental health nursing.
An RMN works closely with people with various mental health conditions to help them recover from their illness or in order to assist them in leading a fulfilling life, despite the patient having on-going symptoms of a long-term mental disorder.
Mental illness may be a long-term condition, such as schizophrenia and bipolar affective disorder, or it may be a result of a stressful life event, such as bereavement or divorce that results in depression or anxiety.
Some people may become unwell as a result of drugs, alcohol or a physical illness that has resulted in feelings of hopelessness and being unable to cope. As an RMN, you can work with a wide range of people from many different backgrounds, or you may specialise and work with one specific group of people such as children and young people, offenders in prison, or people with a particular condition, such as eating disorders.
The main role of an RMN is to build therapeutic relationships, develop a plan of care with that person, and assist them through their difficult time by empowering them and enabling them to take control over their health.
Role and responsibility
The role and responsibilities of an RMN may vary depending on the setting and the group of people that the RMN works with:
● Assessing the patients on admission and on a regular basis throughout,
● Talking with the patient to find out their needs and problems, and how to best provide care,
● Developing care plans with the individual as a structured plan of treatment that involves the nurse, family or carers, and other health professionals,
● Developing risk assessments to identify risks, such as suicide or aggression, and working with the patient to reduce them,
● Build therapeutic relationships with patients and their carers to build trust, empower them and to help them recover,
● Work with patients through one to one sessions or group activities along with other health professionals,
● Administering the correct medication as prescribed by the doctors, including injections, and monitoring for side effects,
● Monitoring physical health and wellbeing, and recording blood pressure, pulse, temperature, diet and fluids and being aware of any physical health needs,
● De-escalating distressed patients through verbal and non-verbal skills, and finding ways to reduce their distress,
● Prevent and manage abusive, aggressive and challenging behaviour from patients when necessary to protect them and others,
● Ensuring correct documentation of patient care,
● Ensuring the legal documentation is in order, especially for patients detained under the Mental Health Act (1983),
● Working with relatives, carers and visitors to educate them about mental health conditions,
● Lead and manage shifts, supervising and supporting Health Care Assistants (HCAs), student nurses and other members of the multi-disciplinary team.
The role of an RMN can be physically and emotionally exhausting but can offer huge rewards.
Vital skills are:
● A caring and friendly personality,
● Excellent communication skills,
● Ensuring the patients feel comfortable enough to disclose personal thoughts and feelings in order for them to understand their illness and recover quickly,
● Supportive towards the patients and their families,
● Quick thinking,
● Effective at problem solving,
● Excellent observational skills to assess patients, reduce the risk of aggression and self-harm, and to keep the patients, and others, safe,
● Calm and level headed.
The values and behaviours expected of nurses, including RMNs can be summed up by the 6 C’s: Care, Compassion, Competence, Communication, Courage, Commitment.
There is often a higher risk of violence and aggression when working in mental health settings, and RMNs are trained to recognise and manage aggression from patients and visitors.
How to get a job in mental health
In order to work as an RMN in the UK it is essential you're registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), the regulatory body that confirms that you are eligible to practice as a nurse in the UK.
To be eligible for registration, you must successfully complete a nursing degree programme. Most universities offering nursing degrees have separate courses in mental health and children and adult nursing, although some may offer “dual field” courses combining two of these options.
Applications for full time nursing degrees are made though UCAS. Part time courses may be available through some universities and you should contact your chosen university to find out the process for applying.
Most mental health nursing degree programmes require two or three GCSEs, usually Maths, English and Science above Grade C. Some universities require A-levels or equivalent qualifications such as Access to Higher Education and international qualifications.
It's important to contact the university directly regarding their individual entry requirements. Entry is dependent on the application, which usually involves a personal statement, references and an interview at the university.
The personal statement is very important and allows you the opportunity to tell the university why you want to become a mental health nurse. You should outline what it is about this profession that appeals to you, and what makes you the right person to become an RMN.
Your values, attributes, character and attitude should be appropriate for the work of an RMN, and you should be able to demonstrate an understanding of what it means to be an RMN and work with people with mental illnesses.
This is also your opportunity to highlight any previous work experience you may have had, including voluntary work, and your academic and professional background.
Relevant hobbies and interests should also enhance your personal statement to show why you should be accepted on the programme. Universities will accept applicants that can show an understanding of the NHS Constitution principles and values, and will have the capability of upholding those values throughout their training and their career as an RMN.
Fees for the nursing degree are around £9250 per year, payable by the student. Grants and bursaries may be available to assist with financial requirements depending on the individual’s situation.
Student finance is available for eligible applicants through student finance England, allowing students to borrow money to help pay for university tuition fees and help with living costs.
Additional financial costs should also be considered, such as textbooks, library fees, printing and photocopying, personal computers, appropriate clothing for placements, and travel between home and university or other sites as needed.
Courses usually take three or four years to complete on a full-time basis and five or six years part time.
If you're already working in the NHS, your employer may support you through funding and flexible working hours enabling you to work and study at the same time.
If you have a degree in another discipline, you may be entitled to Accreditation of Prior Learning (APL) which is recognition of your previous work and allows the course to be completed in two years.
Ask for information about this at your chosen university. A new alternative to the nursing degree programme is the nursing degree apprenticeship that is to be offered from 2018. These four-year programmes will be offered throughout England and will allow people to train whilst employed and be released by their employer to study part time in approved higher education institutions, and in a range of practice placement settings. The cost of the apprenticeship will be covered by the employers.
The three-year degree will equip you with the skills and knowledge needed to provide the best evidence-based, patient-centred care as a RMN. Typical university degrees consist of a range of modules that teach a range of theoretical and clinical skills.
The first year often covers the foundations of nursing and health practice and how the body functions in health and ill health. The second and third year may include modules that teach you how to assess, implement, plan and evaluate care for patients in a variety of mental health settings.
All nursing degrees include clinical placements throughout the three years, and most courses are divided equally into theoretical and practical learning. It is important that you are able to travel to different sites during your training, as you will be working in a variety of settings including acute hospitals, rehabilitation, community and possibly forensic placements.
You'll have the opportunity to work with adults, children, adolescents and elderly people with mental health difficulties.
The salary of an RMN is determined by the NHS pay structure, Agenda for Change with pay bands for nurses. A newly qualified RMN begins as a Band 5 nurse and earns £22,128 per year, increasing each year from qualification to £28,746.
Many nurses work as a Band 6 or 7 as they become more experienced with a yearly salary of between £26,565 and £41,787.
A nurse consultant is the highest paid nursing role with a salary of up to £48,514. Nurses who work in London have slightly higher rates of pay across all pay bands, with different rates depending on the location in London.
Private employers may offer different salaries to the NHS.
What jobs are there in mental health?
There are fewer acute hospitals, and those that remain are situated in the main urban areas. Mental health trusts around the country vary in size and offer different psychiatric services, but there are job opportunities for RMNs across the UK in the NHS.
If you live in a city or large town there may be more job opportunities in NHS hospital wards, but away from cities and major hospital sites community psychiatric nurses (CPN) may also be employed and have a large area to cover.
RMNs who are employed in a hospital ward often work 24 hour rotating shifts including evenings, nights, weekends and bank holidays. A positive work-life balance can be difficult to achieve at times due to working shifts. Working hours are usually 37.5 hours per week.
Nurses who work in the community may also work shifts, particularly if they are employed in mental health crisis teams. Many community mental health nursing jobs have regular office hours but may still be expected to be available in emergencies, after hours or on-call.
Recent changes to the way mental health care is delivered in the UK have led to an increase in community based mental health nursing and this is where many of the jobs are. Community nurses may visit their patients in their homes to assess them and administer medication.
They may also see patients in clinics and in the hospital wards when the patient has been admitted. It's vital that the community nurse has a driving licence, as they will be required to drive between their place of work and patients’ homes on a regular basis.
CPNs are also employed in crisis teams to care for people who have a mental health crisis and may present to the team during the night.
Many nurses work through nursing agencies and are not employed by one particular hospital or nursing home, but work across several sites. This type of employment usually offers higher rates of pay, as the agency will not pay the nurse sick pay or holiday pay.
Working through an agency provides the nurse with a wide variety of workplace settings and the freedom to choose the hours and shifts that are preferred. This might involve more travelling and less job security than regular employment, but is more suitable for some people, such as those with young children, due to the flexibility.
NHS Trusts and nursing homes often have a bank staff system where staff are employed per shift and can choose which shifts they want to work whilst still being employed by a trust or nursing home. This allows more job security whilst still having the flexibility of a zero-hour contract.
There are also many job opportunities in the private sector as an RMN. Many nursing homes employ RMNs where you may work with elderly patients with dementia, or people with learning disabilities.
RMNs are also employed in GP surgeries, prisons, substance misuse clinics, by mental health charities, the Ministry of Defence and as Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessors.
Private mental health and drug and alcohol rehabilitation clinics and hospitals throughout the UK also employ RMNs.
Continual professional development
After qualifying as a mental health nurse, it is essential that you continue your education and training. Most employers have mandatory training that should be updated annually, as it is important that your skills and knowledge are up to date.
In order to remain on the nursing register with the NMC you will need to revalidate every three years. This involves demonstrating that you have obtained a certain number of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) hours.
Newly qualified RMNs often start their careers in hospital wards or nursing homes. As the nurse becomes more experienced, more career opportunities become available.
Many nurses continue to work in hospital wards throughout their career and move up through the pay scale bands to become Band 6 senior staff nurses responsible for the day to day running of the ward.
Other career paths include:
● A CPN as a Band 6 nurse and work in the community,
● Mental health liaison nurse specialising in adult or older adult mental health,
● A specialist nurse in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), or Mother and Infant Mental Health Services (MIMHS),
● Drug and alcohol treatment services,
● Prison or forensic nursing or Early Intervention Psychosis Teams (EIP).
Further experience, education and training can lead to a Band 7 position as ward manager, Advanced Nurse Practitioner (ANP), Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) or as a nurse consultant.
Further training could lead you to a career as a Non-Medical Independent Prescriber (NIP), working in areas such as substance abuse or ADHD services in assessing, and prescribing and educating patients as a CNS.
Alternative career paths for RMNs include research nursing, working to improve best practice within an NHS trust, or for private clinics or universities in their specialist area.
Talking therapies is another option as further training in therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can lead to work as a practitioner with Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT). There are careers for RMNs interested in education, as mentor to junior staff, university student preceptor nurse, or as lecturer in colleges or universities.
This is usually after completing further education at Masters level. Nurse leaders may go on to join hospital management, influencing policies within a trust, working with the government and other agencies to provide the best possible care for patients.
There are many opportunities for RMNs to find work overseas, especially in countries such as Australia and New Zealand. Both of these countries accept the UK nursing qualification and the RMN can register as a nurse to work in these countries by contacting the relevant registration board.
In USA, foreign nurses must pass the NCLEX exam to demonstrate sufficient knowledge in nursing before they are able to register to work. There may be career opportunities in other countries such as UAE, Saudi Arabia and European countries, but it may be necessary to be fluent in another language. Appropriate work visas should be obtained in order to work overseas.
How to find a job
The best way to find a mental health nursing job is to go online to a nursing jobs website such as nurses.co.uk. There you will find hundreds of RMN jobs in the NHS, private hospital, clinics and nursing homes, as well as bank and agency jobs.
You can search for your preferred location, employer, sector, and job level and contract type. Nurses.co.uk specialises in nursing jobs, so it is easier to find the right job than through a general employment website.
Some of these jobs are advertised directly by an employer, and others are advertised through a recruitment agency. It is possible to sign up with one of these recruitment agencies and they will contact you regularly with current employment openings and jobs they think you may be interested in.
Another way to find a job is through the NHS jobs website where you will find job opportunities within the NHS.
There may be fewer jobs advertised here as it is only NHS positions, but if you are hoping to find a job in the NHS then this could be a great place to look.