Mental Health Nurse Careers and Salary Outlook

January 21, 2022 , Updated on July 14, 2022 · 5 Min Read

Nurses are expected to meet certain requirements and criteria to become mental health nurses. Explore nursing careers in mental health and learn about salaries and nursing specialty programs.

mini logo is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?

Mental Health Nurse Careers and Salary Outlook
Credit: FatCamera | E+ | Getty Images
Mental health nurses provide assessment and treatment for individuals with mental issues and illnesses. Obtaining these positions requires experience and education. This page addresses the necessary steps to becoming a mental health nurse, along with certification options and answers to questions like, "what is a mental health nurse," "what does a mental health nurse do," and "how much does a mental health nurse make?"

What is a Mental Health Nurse?

Positions as mental health nurses are not entry-level since these professionals must obtain registered nurse (RN) licenses and experience. This fulfilling career sees nurses helping others work through difficult situations and struggles, such as depression, drug addiction, and attention disorders. Mental health nurses may work with different groups, such as children, veterans, or inmates, to provide treatments that enhance their quality of life. Their care may even help in suicide prevention.

What Do Mental Health Nurses Do?

Mental health nurses work primarily with individuals with mental disabilities. Some professionals in the field find this role particularly strenuous on a mental and emotional level, as some patients may have severe forms of mental illness. Mental health nurses assist people with problems like addiction, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, and anxiety. To offer this assistance, nurses must observe patients to determine their needs and then help formulate individualized plans for recovery. These responsibilities may require counseling sessions to uncover patients' struggles and teamwork with other mental health professionals to build treatment plans. Specific tasks may vary depending on the type of nursing position. For example, advanced practice nurses may prescribe medicine and run their own practices. More general responsibilities, though, may involve determining patient wellness and ensuring that patients and their families understand treatments.

Where Do Mental Health Nurses Work?

Work environments for mental health nurses include hospitals, mental health facilities, substance abuse treatment centers, and private offices that cater to patients with mental illness or substance abuse issues. Candidates may also work with schools, prisons, or organizations that specialize in certain types of concerns, like veterans' mental wellness. Essentially, any location that provides mental health treatment may need these nurses. Mental health nurses work with many different types of people while treating patients. As examples, treatment for recovering addicts may also include interactions with social workers and parole officers.

Skills That Could Affect Mental Health Nurse Salaries

Ideal traits for mental health nurses include advanced knowledge of mental health issues and treatments. For example, advanced practice nurses should understand medications for mental health issues, including side effects and complications when paired with other medications. Candidates should keep up to date on field theories and modern technologies to provide the most effective assistance possible. Nurses should possess compassion and patience for patients who are reluctant to make life changes or experiencing setbacks when undergoing treatment. These professionals should also be able to adjust treatment plans as necessary to reflect patients' needs. Observation skills are crucial for determining areas where patients struggle most. Other important skills include communication and organization. Specifically, mental health nurses may interact with other professionals to coordinate treatment plans while ensuring that patients understand each step of treatment for the best chance at recovery.

How to Become a Mental Health Nurse

Mental health nurses help individuals recover from or manage psychological issues. This assistance can enhance patients' quality of life by improving their relationships, attitudes, and lifestyles. For instance, mental health professionals may offer guidance for overcoming addictions, eating disorders, or self-esteem issues. To become a mental health nurse, candidates must first pursue RN licenses. This credential usually calls for a degree or diploma, along with fieldwork. However, specific requirements vary among states. Another step toward mental health nurse careers involves mental health certification, which requires further education and experience related to the field. The American Nurses Credentialing Center's (ANCC) psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner certification (PMHNP-BC) calls for a graduate degree that addresses treatment and diagnosis of mental health issues.


Educational requirements for mental health nurses vary by credential type and location. For instance, each candidate must first earn an RN license, which may call for a diploma, associate degree in nursing (ADN), or bachelor of science in nursing (BSN). ADNs typically take two years, while BSNs call for around four years of full-time enrollment. These programs usually require fieldwork, as well. Individuals who pursue the PMHNP-BC must hold a more advanced mental health nurse degree, such as a master's or doctorate. These degrees may take two or more years to complete but allow for more advanced field positions.

Training and Certification

For the PMHNP-BC certification, each applicant must first earn an RN license. Requirements for RN licenses can include a diploma, associate, or bachelor's related to nursing, as well as relevant fieldwork. Since specific criteria may vary among states, applicants should consult their state boards for information. Foreign candidates for the PMHNP-BC must hold credentials similar to an RN license. Other criteria for the PMHNP-BC include supervised clinical experience, with at least 500 hours surfacing in programs. Candidates for the psychiatric-mental health nursing certification also need RN licenses to complete a minimum of two years of practice in the field. Each applicant must earn at least 2,000 field hours related to mental health in three years. Additional mental health nursing requirements for this credential include 30 continuing education credits. These credentials also call for passing scores on relevant exams. Application fees are $220-$395, depending on factors like ANCC membership.

Featured Online RN to BSN Programs

Mental Health Nurse Salaries and Job Growth

Mental health nursing is included in the RN category, which the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects RN positions to grow by 12% by 2028. Job availability, though, may vary by location and industry. As examples, general medical and surgical hospitals offer the highest employment level and job concentration for RNs among industries. Regarding location, South Dakota offers the highest job concentration. Mental health nurses take home a median income of $61,736, but earnings can increase over time. In particular, late-career mental health nurses average over $16,000 more per year than entry-level workers. The median mental health nurse salary is higher than the median pay for similar positions, such as certified nurse assistants and licensed vocational nurses. However, general RNs and RNs in emergency rooms take home higher median salaries than mental health nurses.

Median Salary for Mental Health Nurses by Career Experience

  • Entry Level: $51,682
  • Early Career: $57,017
  • Mid Career: $63,838
  • Experienced: $67,539
  • Late Career: $68,657

Source: PayScale

Related Job Salaries
Registered Nurse Certified Nurse Assistant Licensed Practical Nurse Registered Nurse, Emergency Room Licensed Vocational Nurse
$63,393 $27,891 $43,574 $66,391 $47,153

Source: PayScale

Mental Health Nurse Resources

  • American Psychiatric Nurses Association APNA members can earn free continuing education credits through the association's e-books, conferences, and webinars. The association provides resources on subjects like suicide, addiction, trauma, and child and adolescent psychology. Candidates can view the group's publications, including a journal and newsletter, and view open field positions through the site.
  • American Nurses Credentialing Center Candidates can pursue the PMHNP-BC credential through ANCC. The website addresses application and renewal requirements for this credential and provides study materials for the exam. ANCC also connects members to resources and opportunities from its parent group, the American Nurses Association (ANA), including journals, events, and continuing education credits.
  • Association of Advanced Practice Psychiatric Nurses AAPPN members can earn continuing education credits at discounted prices and attend AAPPN events. The association provides a directory of field professionals and informs members of available jobs. AAPPN also connects candidates to volunteer opportunities and offers awards in categories that include nurse of the year.
  • Job Search Nurses can use this site's search engine to browse open field positions by specialization, including professions with psychiatric focuses. Other searchable criteria include location and employment type. also delivers information on continuing education options in areas like critical care, public health, and psychiatric treatment.
  • Association for Nursing Professional Development ANPD offers a yearly convention with workshops and guest speakers. The association also helps members prepare for certification through courses and delivers live webinars on nursing topics. Members can also access the career center and discussion forums related to nursing, along with group publications like the Journal for Nurses in Professional Development. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?

Whether you’re looking to get your pre-licensure degree or taking the next step in your career, the education you need could be more affordable than you think. Find the right nursing program for you.

Popular Nursing Resources

Resources and articles written by professionals and other nurses like you.