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Mental Health

How to become a mental health nurse

Unlock a fulfilling career in mental health nursing by completing postgraduate study. 

By Courtney Edwards Published 22/11/2022

In Australia, registered mental health nurses must complete accredited postgraduate study to become fully qualified.

If you’re looking to kickstart your mental health nursing career, there’s a few steps involved. Whether you aspire to work in a people-facing mental health role in a clinical setting or are looking to step into a leadership role within the industry, completing relevant studies is how you can reach your career goals. SEEK predicts the job growth for mental health nursing will increase by 13.9% in the next 5 years, making now a great time to join the industry. 

What is a mental health nurse?

Mental health nurses specialise in caring for and treating people who have mental illnesses. Nurses who specialise in mental health are usually registered nurses and many have completed further study to gain more knowledge and qualifications. Professionals in this sector tend to work in hospitals, aged care facilities and in the community. Outside of clinical settings, mental health nurses can also work in roles within health and government organisations, research and education. 

What are the roles and responsibilities of a mental health nurse?

The day-to-day responsibilities of a mental health nurse will look different depending on your role. In a clinical setting, some days you might find yourself primarily working directly with patients to provide care and offer support to their families. Other days, you may be focusing on consulting with other healthcare professionals and creating treatment plans. General responsibilities of a mental health nurse include:

  • Patient assessment.
  • Administering medication.
  • Assisting patients in accessing support services.
  • Providing treatment plans.
  • Educating people about mental health.
  • Teaching patients how to understand their condition and manage their symptoms. 

Mental health nurse salaries

The average annual salary for a mental health nurse in Australia is between $95,000-$100,000. The average differs between each state and territory in Australia, with the Northern Territory offering the highest pay for mental health nurses in Australia. 

According to SEEK, this is what you can expect as the average annual salary in each location:

  • New South Wales: $85,000 - $105,000
  • Victoria: $95,000 - $100,000
  • Western Australia: $95,000 - $100,000
  • Queensland: $85,000 - $105,000
  • Tasmania: $85,000 - $100,000
  • South Australia: $95,000 - $100,000
  • Northern Territory: $95,000 - $115,000

6 steps to becoming a mental health nurse in Australia

1. Consider if it is the right career path for you

Whether you’re interested in starting a career in mental health nursing or you’re a registered nurse looking to move into the mental health specialisation, there are a few things to consider. Mental health nursing can be a challenging profession as you may be placed in difficult and confronting situations. It’s important to adopt a good work/life balance to ensure your own mental health isn’t compromised as a result of your job. Prospective students can be comforted by the fact that you will learn more than just the skills and knowledge required to be a mental health nurse during your studies. You will also be given tools and advice that will help you to become resilient in your role. If you’re passionate about mental health and want to pursue a rewarding career where you will be working with people who need support with their mental health, this may be a suitable career for you. 

2. Complete an undergraduate degree

In most cases, tertiary education is a requirement to enter the healthcare field and become a nurse. To become a mental health nurse, the first step is to complete a Bachelor of Nursing. If you plan to further your education and study mental health nursing at a postgraduate level, it’s a good idea to check the entry requirements and pathways required for postgraduate study.

3. Become a registered nurse and gain experience in the mental health field

Nurses who are registered by the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia can work in a mental health setting but will not be qualified as a mental health nurse or have their credential until further education is completed. Being a registered nurse and having experience working in the mental health field is your gateway to studying mental health nursing at a postgraduate level. To support your application for further study, it’s a good idea to gain volunteer experience in the mental health field or find a job centred around mental health care.

4.  Complete a postgraduate degree specialising in mental health nursing

To become a fully qualified mental health nurse, you will need to complete postgraduate study at a graduate certificate, graduate diploma or master’s degree level. A graduate certificate is the lowest level of postgraduate study available which is useful for nurses who are simply looking to upskill. Graduate diplomas and master’s degrees are the highest levels of study available for mental health nursing. If you want to become a credentialed mental health nurse, opt for a mental health nursing graduate diploma or master’s degree. 

You can complete a mental health course online on a part-time basis and still work alongside your studies. Compare available online courses and speak to a Student Enrolment Advisor about your chosen course if you have any questions or need guidance. 

5. Apply for credential through the Australian College of Mental Health Nurses (ACMHN)

A completed Graduate Diploma of Mental Health Nursing or a Master of Mental Health Nursing qualifies you to progress towards getting the ACMHN credential, which is the only consistent standard for recognition of specialist mental health nurses in Australia. After gaining this qualification, you will have a broader range of job options available to you. 

6. Start applying for mental health nursing positions

Once you have completed your studies and gained your accreditation by the ACMNH, you can become a fully qualified mental health nurse. Highlighting all of your relevant work, academic and volunteer experience is a great way to present a strong resume. Following the steps listed above can be useful to help you have a good shot at standing out as a potential employee. Potential job options after completing a postgraduate mental health nursing course include mental health nurse, mental health clinician, community mental health professional, educator, mental health care coordinator and more.

Beyond applying for jobs via employment websites, let your peers and academics from your postgraduate course know you are seeking employment as this is a great way to find job opportunities. Plus, they can put in a good word for you. If you are a registered nurse who has completed a postgraduate course to move into mental health nursing, communicate this with your employer and let them know you would like to be considered for new mental health nursing opportunities that arise.