5 Common Questions About Becoming a Mental Health Nurse
A psychiatric nursing program can prepare you to offer mental health services in individual, family, group, and community settings. You could learn how to build therapeutic relationships and offer a range of counselling, rehabilitation, and crisis intervention services.
Mental health nursing is a great career option for empathetic individuals who excel at communicating with others. If you are considering pursuing this specialty within the nursing profession, then you may have some additional questions regarding areas like job outlook and salary expectations. Below you can find answers to five of the most common questions that people ask when considering mental health nursing careers.
1. What Do Psychiatric Nurses Do?
Psychiatric nurses provide care to people who are experiencing anxiety, mood, or psychotic disorders, as well as individuals who are facing addictions, substance abuse, or Alzheimer's or other dementias. Your responsibilities as a psychiatric nurse could vary based on several factors, including your level of education, prior experience, and work setting. But here are some of the tasks that you might carry out:
- Interview and assess new patients
- Develop treatment plans
- Evaluate and update treatment plans as needed
- Offer counselling services to patients and their families
- Give medications
- Administer psychotherapy
- Lead recreational and therapeutic activities
- Provide crisis intervention
- Liaise with other members of a care team, including psychiatrists and pharmacists
- Support other psychiatric staff members
- Act as an advocate for your patients and their families
- Direct patients and their families to appropriate community, provincial, and federal support services
2. Where Do Psychiatric Nurses Work?
The most common employment settings for psychiatric nurses are:
- Mental health and addiction facilities
- Community health centres
- Nursing and long-term care homes
- Non-profit organizations
- Correctional facilities
3. What Is the Average Mental Health Nurse Salary?
Overall, mental health nurses can expect to earn great wages. Earnings can range from $23.85 to $46.00 per hour and higher across Canada. The national average was $37.00 an hour during a survey period from 2016 to 2017.* However, you might experience quite a variance in earnings depending on the region and province in which you work.
For example, the wages in Northwest Territories range from $38.44 to $72.57 per hour and more. And Nunavut is similar with wages ranging from $34.94 to $86.69 per hour and above. Certain regions of Alberta also offer higher-paying positions. Psychiatric nurses working in the Athabasca/Grande Prairie/Peace River and Banff/Jasper/Rocky Mountain House regions reported top-end wages of $51.00 per hour and more.*
4. What Is the Job Outlook for Mental Health Nurses?
The job outlook for mental health nurses in Canada is very encouraging. Every province and territory is predicting a strong outlook with the exception of New Brunswick, which projects moderate job growth. One of the biggest factors driving this positive outlook is the fact that psychiatric nurses are currently retiring at a faster rate than students are graduating. Just consider these stats:
- The average age of retirement for nurses is 56 years old. And the average age of a psychiatric nurse in 2010 was 47 years old.**
- In 2014, 70 percent of the psychiatric nursing workforce was aged 40 and older. And 14.8 percent of the workforce was aged 60 and older.***
Due to a growing number of nurses reaching retirement age and an increased demand for health services, it is expected that there will be a shortfall of 60,000 full-time nurses in Canada by 2022.** And because of this demand for nurses, they experience a low unemployment rate. The occupational group that includes psychiatric nurses reported an unemployment rate of only 0.6 percent in 2014, compared to the national average of 6.9 percent for all occupations.***
5. How Do I Become a Registered Psychiatric Nurse (RPN)?
Many people wonder about the educational level required to become an RPN. A common question is, "Can I start out by earning a mental health nursing certificate?" The reality is that certificates are not common in this line of work. Instead, you can start out by obtaining a diploma in psychiatric nursing. But a lot of people choose to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Psychiatric Nursing degree, which tends to be the most common (and often required) level of education.
You have a couple of different options for obtaining a diploma or degree. Typically, only the larger cities in Canada offer psychiatric nursing programs. Considering that almost 20 percent of Canada's population resides in rural and remote areas, many people who are considering mental health nursing careers decide to relocate in order to receive an education.**** This often holds true even for those living in smaller cities. But moving in order to earn a bachelor's degree is not a viable option for everyone.
Due to these constraints and an increasing demand for psychiatric nurses, some schools are now offering online programs. This option allows you to complete all of your theoretical courses online. Then your clinical hours can often be completed in the local area where you intend to work. Psychiatric nursing has now become a more feasible career choice for those individuals who would have previously overlooked it due to limited program access.
Once you have earned a diploma or bachelor's degree in psychiatric nursing, you can become registered by applying with your province's regulatory body. However, RPNs are only regulated in Alberta, BC, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Yukon. The regulatory agencies are as follows:
- Alberta—College of Registered Psychiatric Nurses of Alberta (CRPNA)
- BC—College of Registered Psychiatric Nurses of BC (CRPNBC)
- Manitoba—College of Registered Psychiatric Nurses of Manitoba (CRPNM)
- Saskatchewan—Registered Psychiatric Nurses Association of Saskatchewan (RPNAS)
- Yukon—Government of Yukon's Professional Licensing & Regulatory Affairs (Note that the licensing process in the Yukon is slightly varied from the other four western provinces.)
The registration process typically involves paying fees, passing the Registered Psychiatric Nurses of Canada Exam (RPNCE), and completing a criminal record check as well as other disclosures and declarations. Once you are successfully registered, annual license renewal is required along with an annual continuing competence review to ensure that your skills are current. You also must submit a new criminal record check and accumulate 1,400 hours of practice every five years.
Note that if you are currently working as a registered nurse (RN) or licensed practical nurse (LPN), then you may be able to fast-track this process. And current RNs may be able to work in psychiatric nursing positions without an RPN designation if they are employed in provinces that do not regulate the profession. For example, in Ontario, an experienced nurse is only required to pass the RPNCE and then maintain a minimum amount of continuing education hours or retake the exam every five years in order to work as a psychiatric nurse.
Prepare to Make a Difference
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* Government of Canada, Job Bank, website last visited on February 27, 2019.
** Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), Regulated Nurses, 2014, website last visited on November 18, 2015.
*** Canadian Federation of Nurses Union (CFNU), "The Nursing Workforce: Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions Backgrounder," website last visited on November 18, 2015.
**** Statistics Canada, "Canada's Rural Population Since 1851," website last visited on January 23, 2020.