Psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners are in demand in a variety of environments beyond hospitals.

A pyschiatric mental health nurse speaks with a young woman.The U.S. boasts more than 248,000 nurse practitioners (NPs), and 3.8% of them are psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners treating adults and children.* Recent numbers from the National Alliance on Mental Illness indicate that 1 in 5 American adults experience a mental illness each year, and 4% experience a serious mental illness that inhibits at least one major life activity, such as caring for oneself, working, communicating, hearing, seeing, breathing, and learning among others.

As mental illness has a proclivity to affect any of us, psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners are critical members of our healthcare providers. With a master’s degree in nursing, a psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) is able to assess, diagnose, provide therapy, and—in some states—prescribe medications for patients with psychiatric disorders, medical organic brain disorders, and substance abuse problems. All nursing programs aim to prepare practitioners to treat individuals across the lifespan, from children to teenagers to adults.

In addition to mental health clinics, psychiatric facilities, private psychiatric practices, and community mental health centers, psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners offer valuable services in a variety of environments. Here are four more places where psychiatric nurse practitioners work:

  • Correctional facilities: Psychiatric mental-health nurse practitioners who work in correctional facilities see three times as many mentally ill patients as psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners do in hospitals. In addition, approximately one-quarter of inmates have both mental health and addiction disorders occurring at the same time. Psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners can counsel, evaluate, or provide crisis intervention services to jail and prison inmates in general population as well as those who require inpatient services.
  • Domestic violence shelters: Although many are hesitant to report acts of domestic violence, victims of abuse often exhibit psychiatric disorders. Those who seek protection in shelters are able to be seen by psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners who can help assess and diagnose issues while caring for victims in a safe environment.
  • Residential substance abuse facilities: More than half of the 20-plus million people who have a substance abuse disorder also have a mental illness. Psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners are key personnel in residential substance abuse facilities to help this population address their issues.
  • Schools: Colleges and universities are experiencing an increase in students with mental health issues for a variety of reasons, including increased diversity and access to education. Even as students are diagnosed with mental and behavioral health issues prior to college, they are more able to attend school and be successful than in the past due to the treatment available on campuses. Psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners and other mental health counselors are in demand to address the needs of the nation’s college students.

Becoming a psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner requires earning a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), or in some instances, a Doctor of Nursing Practice. In addition to Walden University’s MSN program, there are only a few online MSN programs that offer a psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner specialization that allows nurses to continue with their professional and personal responsibilities while earning an advanced degree. As all areas of nursing are facing a shortage, the need for quality mental health care is increasing. A career as a psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner can really make a difference and help those in need.


*American Association of Nurse Practitioners, NP Fact Sheet, on the internet at www.aanp.org/all-about-nps/np-fact-sheet.

†National Alliance on Mental Illness, Mental Health by the Numbers, on the internet at www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-By-the-Numbers.

‡L. Schoenly, Mental Health Nursing in the Correctional Setting, Nurse.com, on the internet at www.nurse.com/ce/psychiatric-nursing-in-the-correctional-setting.

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