Nursing School Interview Hot Topic: Mental Health Nursing


Whether you are applying for Mental Health Nursing, or Adult or Children’s, you must have a good understanding of the role of a Mental Health Nurse. In this article we will provide a summary of the role, and what differentiates it from other areas of Nursing.

What does the role involve?

A Mental Health Nurse will normally be based in a hospital – a psychiatric ward or a specialist unit – but may also be based in the community, in a community health centre or even in people’s homes. A mental health nurse may be able to provide 24 hour care in a residential setting, for example. They work as part of a team that includes GPs, psychologists, social workers, psychiatrists, occupational therapists, arts therapists and healthcare assistants.

The difference between mental health and adult nursing is perhaps most apparent in the difficulties inherent in diagnosing and assessing patients. An adult nurse will have a simple diagnostic tool or test that they can use. However, in mental health nursing – whilst you may have questionnaires and tools that are of some use – care relies heavily on talking to someone and building a therapeutic alliance with them.

A mental health nurse is far more reliant on subtle cues, and an understanding that may be difficult to put into objective terms. However, the collaborative building of a care plan is the same – you must work with the patient to treat them.

What is unique to mental health nursing?

A mental health nurse must consider whether their patient has capacity to make an informed choice, whether they could be a danger to themselves and others, or even whether they should be detained under the Mental Health Act. A mental health nurse has the legal power to detain a patient on a ward for up to six hours. Considerations like whether to talk to someone, whether to try and calm them down, or whether to (as a last resort) restrain them, must also be made on a frequent basis.

Both mental health nurses and adult health nurses have to understand someone’s physical health. It is a misconception that a mental health nurse will need to have no knowledge of physiology and physical assessments. Many people with serious mental health issues are likely to develop serious physical conditions, and many health conditions or the medication needed for conditions may create serious physical problems in themselves.

Mental health nurses may become used to seeing patients for far longer than an adult health nurse, as treating mental health issues is a long and complex therapy. A patient may be on a ward for months, or in and out of hospital with their condition for years. Nurses will become used to seeing these patients, and often a psychiatric ward will have familiar faces that are well known and fairly ‘long term’ residents.

Do not believe that mental health nurses will only see a small part of the population – one in four people suffer from mental illness in any given year. Mental poor health will affect the majority (over 60%) of the population in the UK at some point, especially those that have been disadvantaged by society. A mental health nurse is taking up a difficult challenge – looking after those that have a complex problem, that often have been stigmatised by society, and that may be very difficult to treat.

Potential questions which may be asked in the interview

  • What does a mental health nurse do?
  • Why do you want to be a mental health nurse?
  • Why do you not want to be a mental health nurse?
  • Why do you think mental health nursing currently has an extra bursary from the government?
  • What do you think are some of the unique problems that a mental health nurse might face?
  • Who do mental health nurses work alongside?
  • Do mental health nurses still need a good knowledge of the physical side of medicine?
  • What does the term capacity mean?
  • What does it mean to ‘section’ a patient?

How to answer questions on this topic

Be well informed on the importance of mental health nursing, and the many difficulties that mental health nurses face – whether or not you intend on applying for it. As an adult nurse or children’s nursing applicant, you should still understand each domain thoroughly. If you are applying for mental health nursing, make sure that you understand the framework nurses work in, the unique powers that a mental health nurse has compared to an adult nurse, and the difficulties and rewards that they face and achieve.

Further Reading....

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