What Does a Psychiatric Nurse Do?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Psychiatric nurses work in the mental health nursing field to care for and support patients with mental illnesses. Discover what it takes to become a psychiatric nurse in this guide.

[Featured Image]: A psychiatric nurse wearing a green uniform, and a stethoscope around her neck is taking care of a patient with short white hair and wearing a brown blouse.

A psychiatric nurse provides care and supports the physical and mental health of individuals, groups, families, and communities with and affected by mental health conditions. Sometimes referred to as psychiatric mental health nurses or psych nurses, these professionals receive specialised training that helps prepare them to take on additional responsibilities to care for people with psychological and behavioural problems. 

As a psychiatric nurse, your tasks will depend on where you work, your training, and your patients' needs. Typical duties include observing patients, administering medications, and helping with self-care and general physical health. It can be a varied and rewarding career requiring neurobiological, psychosocial, and nursing expertise.

To ensure it’s a good fit for you, it helps to understand what employers might expect from you as a psychiatric nurse and where it might take you as a career option.

Where do psychiatric nurses work, and what do they do?

As a psychiatric nurse, you might work in many different settings, evaluating and supporting your patients’ mental health needs and working with doctors to execute care plans. As a mental health nurse, you won't treat mental health conditions alone. You'll work with a team of health professionals, including psychiatrists, psychotherapists, and social workers, to create, implement, and monitor treatment and care plans.

A few of the everyday things you might do in this role include:

  • Conducting intake screening and evaluation

  • Working with interdisciplinary teams

  • Educating patients and their families

  • Providing community education

  • Practising crisis intervention

  • Providing case management

  • Promoting general/overall health 

  • Administering and monitoring treatment regimes

  • Teaching self-care and helping patients achieve individual goals

As a psychiatric nurse, you can expect to promote mental health in various ways. You might work with children exposed to trauma, soldiers coming home from combat, supporting adults and teenagers with mental illness, and more.

Your day-to-day duties will depend largely on where you choose to work. Psych nurses may work in any mental health service setting, including federal agencies, schools, rehabilitation centres, hospitals, and clinics. You might work in one or more of three typical settings, including hospitals, correctional facilities, and assisted living facilities.


Mental health disorders affect approximately 7.5 percent of the population in India, with 20 percent of the population suffering from some form of mental disorder [1]. The World Health Organisation estimates that the economic cost of mental health conditions in India surpasses 1 trillion USD, with an age-adjusted suicide rate of 21.1 per 100,000 people [2]. While the severity ranges from mild to severe, and many people with mental illness won’t require inpatient care, hospitalisation is an available treatment option.

You'll likely work closely with other care team members if you work as a psychiatric nurse in an inpatient treatment centre or hospital. You’ll closely monitor patients, ensuring they receive an accurate diagnosis and subsequently adjust or stabilise their medications. Other everyday tasks include performing safety and risk assessments, managing meds, and assisting with patients' grooming and bathing.

Correctional facilities

A December 2021 report from the National Crime Records Bureau revealed a 22 percent increase in mentally ill inmates, with up to 9,180 jailed individuals who have mental illness [3]. These statistics underscore the need for psychiatric nurses in jail and prison settings. Should you pursue a role in a correctional facility, you may work as part of an inpatient psychiatric unit within the facility or as an outpatient psych nurse providing evaluations, interventions, and counselling to inmates who reside in the general population.

Assisted living facilities

Patients in long-term care facilities typically have serious health problems and may be dealing with forms of dementia, which is commonly associated with forms of depression and anxiety. As a psych nurse in a nursing home or assisted living facility, you will likely consult with health professionals and psychiatrists to manage patients' mental and physical health, create and monitor treatment plans, and manage medications.

What does it take to be successful as a psychiatric nurse?

To be successful as a psych nurse, you’ll need a combination of education and experience to develop essential skills and the passion and drive to work in a potentially stressful environment. In addition to having a solid foundation in general nursing and holding an active licence as a registered nurse, it’s also helpful to cultivate skills such as: 

  • Critical thinking: Every patient has unique psychological needs. As a psych nurse, you'll need to approach each patient personally based on assessments and psychiatric nursing techniques.

  • Compassion and empathy: As a psych nurse, you must never forget you're treating a person's mind in addition to their emotions and personality. You'll need to be able to listen, try to understand patients' points of view, and use interpersonal skills to build rapport with patients and their families.

  • Interest in mental health nursing: To succeed in this role, you must be passionate about and interested in what you're doing. Psychiatric nursing isn't just a job you choose for the paycheck. It would be best if you had a passion for helping others with their mental health struggles, a drive to understand and continue learning about the brain and mental illnesses, and the desire to help impact change in mental health care.

  • Reliability and consistency: Your patients and coworkers will rely on you to provide a steady quality of care and maintain constant professionalism.

Advancing your career as a psychiatric nurse

Several options are available if you want to expand the scope of your mental health nursing career. One way is to specialise. You may choose an area of focus such as child and adolescent mental health, acute care, military mental health, substance use disorders, or psychiatric care for the elderly. You might also move into an advanced nurse practitioner position, which requires advanced education and registering with the Indian Nursing Council. It involves tasks like consulting or working as a liaison, providing consultations and mental health services to patients and families, and collaborating with integrated health care providers. 

Psychiatric nurse vs psychiatric nurse practitioner

As a psychiatric nurse, you'll be essential in caring for patients with mental and behavioural health needs. You'll work with psychiatrists, social workers, and psychiatric nurse practitioners who oversee cases, determine diagnoses, and order treatments. The level of care you provide differs when you choose to advance your career and become a psych nurse practitioner. As a psych nurse practitioner, you can:

  • Write prescriptions

  • Perform advanced assessments

  • Design and order treatment and care plans

  • Diagnose conditions

  • Provide psychotherapy or counselling

Pros and cons

Nursing, in general, is a challenging field. It requires long hours, and there's a level of stress that comes with taking care of other people. Working as a psychiatric nurse has its unique challenges. It also has its rewards. A few of the pros and cons of working as a psychiatric nurse include:

  • Pro: Higher pay and increased job satisfaction

  • Con: Increased need for patience, attentiveness, and endurance

  • Pro: Potential for job growth and security

  • Con: You may work in volatile, higher-risk settings

  • Pro: You can work in a variety of settings  

Career outlook for psychiatric nurses

A recent report from the World Health Organisation discovered that a global shortage of mental health nurses is costing millions of people adequate care. Experts warn that India’s next health crisis may come in the form of a severe nursing shortage [4], which suggests nurses of all types will continue experiencing demand. Given that nurses comprise approximately 44 percent of worldwide mental health workers, you can expect ongoing demand for psychiatric nurses in India and worldwide [5].


There’s a strong demand for psych nurses. There’s also a strong earning potential, which may be impacted by where you work and if you choose to specialise. Across India, psychiatric nurses make an average monthly salary of ₹5,08,752, according to Glassdoor in India [6]. 

Steps to becoming a psychiatric nurse

To be a psychiatric nurse, you must first get your registered nurse (RN) licence. To become an RN, you need to graduate with at least a diploma in auxiliary nursing and midwifery, but more commonly, a diploma in general nursing, a bachelor's degree, or a master's degree in nursing. Register with the Indian Nursing Council or the State Nursing Councils.

Education: 2, 3, and 4-year program options

Your education is an excellent starting point for becoming a psychiatric nurse. To qualify to register with the Indian Nursing Council,  you must graduate from a nursing program. Some of the most common options include:

  • Completing a two-year diploma in auxiliary nursing and midwifery

  • Completing a 3.5-year diploma in general nursing and midwifery 

  • Completing a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree program

  • Completing a two-year post-basic Bachelor of Science in Nursing program

  • Completing a one- or two-year master’s program in nursing

  • Completing a three- to five-year PhD in Nursing program

  • Completing a one-year post-basic diploma in psychiatric nursing

Clinical experience and continuing education

Many programs in mental health nursing require a set number of years of experience working in general nursing for admittance. For certification, you'll need experience working as an RN, including at least 2,000 hours of clinical nursing in a mental health environment. Additionally, you'll be expected to complete 30 hours of relevant continuing education within every three years to maintain your licence.

Next steps

If you’re considering a career in mental health nursing, you may want to read or take some courses to become familiar with the conditions, behaviours, and issues you’re likely to face. Consider exploring Psychological First Aid by Johns Hopkins on Coursera.

To be successful in this role, you should be passionate about helping people with mental health issues and confident in your knowledge of nursing practices and how the brain works. Once you’ve gained clinical experience, you may consider earning a master’s or doctoral degree to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner to advance your career. 

Article sources


Kashmir Reader. “Psychiatric Nurse: A Specialised Job, https://kashmirreader.com/2021/02/06/psychiatric-nurse-a-specialised-job/.” Accessed March 21, 2024.

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