How Much Do Mental Health Nurses Make?

Daniel Bal
Updated November 29, 2022
Explore the factors that impact mental health nurse salaries and how this career compares to other specialties.
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According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experiences a mental health condition. One in 5 children also suffers from a debilitating mental illness. As the stigmatization surrounding mental health lessens, the need for nurses who specialize in the field continues to grow.

Focusing on a mental health specialty allows nurses to work in a growing field while also increasing their earning potential.

This guide explores mental health nurse salaries, also known as psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs), including the highest/lowest paying states, their salary compared to other specialties, and ways to increase pay.

Average Salary for Mental Health Nurses

The median annual salary for a registered nurse (RN) who specializes in mental health is $71,000, with a median hourly wage of $33.36. The average salary among all RN specialties is slightly higher at $72,240, with school health RNs earning the lowest at $50,000 and nurse anesthetists earning the highest at $170,000.

Median Annual Salary

Source: The 2020 National Nursing Workforce Survey

Median Hourly Wage

Source: The 2020 National Nursing Workforce Survey

Highest and Lowest Paying States for Mental Health Nurses

Although the Bureau of Labor and Statistics does not track salary information for PMHNPs specifically, their earnings correspond to those of general RNs. Overall, salaries vary from one state to the next and are often tied to the demand in a specific area.

The five states with the highest pay for RNs are California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Alaska. These states also rank among the highest in the country for cost of living. Of these states, Alaska and Oregon have the lowest cost of living.

The five states with the lowest pay for RNs are Alabama, South Dakota, Mississippi, Iowa, and Arkansas. Each of these states rank below-average for cost of living, while Mississippi has the lowest cost of living in the country.

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How Do Mental Health Nurse Salaries Compare to Other Nurses?

Compared to all other nursing salaries, the average pay for a PMHNP is near the middle. Their median annual earnings of $71,000 is similar to other specialties, including acute care and oncology nursing.

3 Ways to Increase Pay As a Mental Health Nurse

There are a variety of ways for PMHNPs to increase their salary. Options range from completing additional schooling to focusing on a certain specialty or using extra time to freelance within telehealth. Each of these opportunities provides nurses with the ability to improve their yearly income.

1. Become a Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

Becoming a mental health nurse practitioner (NP) provides nurses with the opportunity to increase their pay. RNs looking to become NPs typically need a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN). Some bridge programs accept those with an associate degree in nursing (ADN).

After gaining hands-on experience, RNs must earn a master of science in nursing (MSN) or a doctorate of nursing practice (DNP). Most programs require applicants to have completed at least two years as an RN.

According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, the average annual salary for an NP is $119,000.

2. Become Certified in a Mental Health Nursing Specialty

Earning certifications that focus on various areas of mental health can also help increase pay as a PMHNP. Most certifications require RNs to complete an exam that assesses their understanding of the knowledge and skills needed within a specific mental health specialty.

Certification options include:

  • Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing Certification: This certification is offered by the American Nursing Credential Center, accredited by the Accreditation Board for Specialty Nursing Certification
  • Pediatric Primary Care Specialist: This certification validates a nurse’s ability to care for children and adolescents with a variety of mental health issues. It is offered by the Pediatric Care Certification Board.
  • Addiction Certification: This certification, offered through the Addiction Nursing Certification Board, allows nurses to work in mental health settings where people are treated for addiction and substance abuse.

3. Explore Opportunities in Telehealth

Because of the growing use of online communication, telehealth has increased employment opportunities. In fact, nurses can work as a freelance PMHNP in telehealth while also maintaining their full-time position, providing flexibility to earn additional income.

Frequently Asked Questions About Mental Health Nurse Salaries

Can a mental health nurse prescribe medication?

The ability for a PMHNP to prescribe medication depends on their level of education. Advanced practice registered nurses who specialize in mental health are provided at least some level of prescription authority in all 50 states. Mental health professionals who are RNs or licensed practical nurses cannot write prescriptions.

Do mental health nurses with a BSN earn more than those with an ADN?

According to Payscale, RNs with an associate degree earn a median annual salary of $72,000, and those who have earned a bachelor’s degree earn $88,000.

While most associate programs take two years to complete, a bachelor’s degree takes about four years. ADNs, however, gain two extra years of on-the-job experience.

Where do mental health nurses work?

Mental health workers can work in a variety of professional health settings. These settings include hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, substance abuse centers, private practices, community-based mental health centers, primary care offices, and state and federal facilities, such as prisons.

Are mental health nurses in demand?

Due to the steady normalization surrounding mental health issues over the past decade, there is more of a need for mental health professionals who can focus on helping those with psychiatric and psychological conditions.

According to a report released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the mental health field could be 250,000 professionals short of the demand expected in 2025.

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