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Career Outlook: The Mental Health Nurse

Nurses hand on a patient’s hand

Primary care providers have diagnosed nearly 20 percent of the population with one or more behavioral health conditions annually, with 4 percent of those individuals suffering with critically debilitating mental health issues. In league with this assessment, a 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) indicates that out of 45.9 million United States citizens, 20 percent were diagnosed with a behavioral health disorder at least once during the year. [2] This revelation came at time when behavioral health advocates started focusing their attention on America’s need to address the population’s mental wellness.

The Tale Told by the Numbers

The 2012 SAMHSA report looked at behavioral health diagnoses at the state level. [3] The study showed that New Jersey physicians generated the lowest amount of behavioral health diagnoses in the nation. Conversely, Utah physicians produced the most behavioral health diagnoses, while West Virginia behavioral health care providers generated the most severe mental health diagnoses in the country.

Each year, behavioral health professionals diagnose millions of Americans with one or more mental health condition(s). In fact, nearly 45 million mental health diagnoses occur each year. Behavioral health conditions also affect the thirteen- to eighteen-year-old United States juvenile population, with this group receiving mental health diagnoses at a rate of nearly 22 percent each year.

One in twenty-five American adults, which equates to 9.8 million or 4 percent of the population, experiences mental health episodes that interfere with daily living. Case in point, care providers diagnose over 1 percent of the adult population with schizophrenia, nearly 3 percent with bipolar disease, and almost 7 percent with a major depressive occurrence.

Types of Behavioral Health Conditions

Behavioral professionals recognize over 200 kinds of mental health conditions. [4] The conditions, which can affect a patient’s thoughts, emotions, and actions, might include the following:
- Anxiety disorders afflict around 40 million adults each year. The symptoms of this condition encompass distressful bouts of fear and worry.
- Everyone experiences the effects of being in a bad mood at some point in their life. However, individuals that suffer from mood disorders experience longer, sustained symptoms, often struggling with the condition daily for most of the day.
- Individuals that physicians diagnose with schizophrenia suffer from a brain disorder that alters their cognitive and emotional functions. This can result in changes to verbal communication, thought, perception, and self-image.
- Dementia, a condition often associated with – but not limited to – the aging population, disturbs conscience thoughts and can result in the disruption of memory and movement.
- Eating disorders may not seem like a life-threatening, debilitating disease. However, if left unchecked, the condition can lead to serious health disorders such as obesity or death. Statistically, the condition affects mostly women and children. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that over 45 million adults experience behavioral health problems, yet only half of this group seeks treatment. [5]

Improving Population Health One Patient at a Time

Psychiatric Mental Health Advanced Practice Nurses (PMH APNs) are graduate medical professionals who deliver behavioral health services and promote behavioral health among the population. Individual nursing boards regulate the PMH APN practice in each state. [6] A PMH APN practitioner may earn one of two accreditations: Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) or Psychiatric Mental Health Clinical Nurse Specialist (PMHCNS). Either designation requires advanced training and clinical knowledge beyond the registered nurse (RN) role. These professionals display exemplary knowledge of their field by passing a national certification exam which demonstrates their expertise.

Psychiatric Mental Health Advanced Practice Nurses use a range of services and treatments to heal the whole patient. They integrate physical, biological, social, and spiritual factors as a holistic approach to healing. PMH APNs work collaboratively with individuals, families, and groups to help patients recover. They teach behavioral health patients how to manage their mental well-being and general health, while emphasizing wellness education and disease prevention. However, these primary care providers also prescribe medication in states where it’s permitted.

Responsibilities and Skills of the PMH APN Role

PMH APNs deliver many important mental health services to the population. They evaluate, diagnose, and treat behavioral health disorders. They also order and interpret laboratory tests. Using the test results, Psychiatric Mental Health Nurses deliver psychotherapy treatments to individuals, families, and populations. In hospital settings, PMH APNs treat patients autonomously, where allowed by state boards, and coordinate patient care throughout a range of services.

In the United States, 26 percent of homeless individuals who live in shelters suffer with serious behavioral health disorders and 46 percent cope with a combination of mental health disorders and substance abuse. [1] The nation needs registered nurses who will take the next step in their careers by pursuing advanced training so they can serve the behavioral health needs of United States patients.

Learn More

Psychiatric Mental Health nurse practitioners play a significant role in the modern health care system. At Regis, you can earn an online post-master’s certificate to not just prepare for advancement in nursing, but to also expand services as a primary care provider.

Recommended Readings

How Psychiatric Nursing is Fighting the Mental Health Stigma
What Is a Psychiatric Mental Health NP?
Nurse Practitioners and the Primary Care Shortage