What does a psychiatric nurse do?

Mental health nurses work with people with a range of mental health disorders, including mental illnesses and psychological distress. They work with their clients to promote psychological wellbeing, emotional health and physical wellbeing. This can include helping their clients understand their mental health conditions, teaching them to manage their symptoms or becoming aware of what can exacerbate their mental health condition.


  • Assessing patients who are mentally ill
  • Observation of patients
  • Helping patients participate in day-to-day activities
  • Administering medication
  • Assisting in behaviour modification programs

What skills do I need to be a psychiatric nurse?

Psychiatric nurses should be compassionate and possess empathy for people who are living with mental illnesses. They should have advanced emotional maturity to support their patients. Excellent interpersonal and communication skills are a must, as they are required to work well with others. Good problem solving skills are essential, as is the ability to work well under pressure and in an emergency.

  • Interpersonal and people skills
  • Empathy and compassion
  • Attention to detail
  • Maturity
  • Problem solving skills


Mental health nursing is in itself a specialisation of the nursing profession. Mental health nurses find themselves working in acute and emergency care in hospitals, or in the community as part of a continuum of care teams providing ongoing recovery and support. Mental health nurses can progress their careers with advanced clinical positions such as clinical nurse consultant or clinical nurse practitioner, or move into education, research or a management-based role.

Psychiatric emergency nursing

Psychiatric emergency services are rendered by nurses in part of a crisis management team for issues such as attempted suicide, substance abuse, depression, psychosis, violence or other rapid changes in behaviour. Care for these patients can be complex and the patient may be having treatment through an involuntary commitment.

Community mental health nurse

Community mental health nurses carry out their work in a range of behavioural healthcare settings, including community mental health centres, detoxification centres for drug and alcohol abuse, group homes for people with serious mental illnesses and substance abuse treatment programs.

Mental health nurse in general practice

General practitioners need support from specialist mental health professionals, such as mental health nurses, in their practices so they can provide adequate care to people experiencing severe mental illness

Study pathways for psychiatric nurses

An undergraduate degree in nursing will allow you to register to practise as a nurse and work in most mental health settings. Specialist mental health nurses must complete a postgraduate qualification.

Getting Started

Get your foot in the door by completing an undergraduate degree in nursing and working as either an enrolled nurse or a registered nurse.

Skill Building

Registered nurses can work in mental health and increase their qualifications by undertaking further study or applying to become a credentialed mental health nurse.

Professional Development

The Australian College of Mental Health Nurses provides various professional development opportunities.

Industry Recognition

Registered nurses practising within the mental health field can apply to be a Credentialed Mental Health Nurse.

Getting a job after graduation

Put your training to good use and get the best professional head start in your nursing career. Take a look at our sample resume and cover letter and put your best foot forward when you apply for nursing jobs.

Job Prospects and Salaries

Nursing is a profession that has been in demand and will continue to be in demand in the future, as Australia deals with the complexities of an ageing population. A large proportion of registered nurses who work in mental health are close to retirement age, meaning there will be strong demand for this particular specialisation in the future.