Behavioral health nursing is one of the fastest growing healthcare fields and the future looks bright for this specialty. As the demand for behavioral health services continues to grow, so does the need for behavioral health nurses.
Behavioral health nurses are uniquely qualified to provide care for patients with mental and behavioral health related issues. They are also playing an increasingly important role in the future of prevention, care, and treatment.
The AMA describes behavioral health as “generally [referring] to mental health and substance use disorders, life stressors and crises, and stress-related physical symptoms.”
There are many levels and positions within healthcare involved in this particular setting. Behavioral health is a broad area of practice including clinicians, nurses, techs, and other such positions in a variety of facility types. Specialties in this setting include psychiatry, psychology, neurology, counseling, addiction treatment, diet and nutrition, and much more.
How Does Mental Health Care Fit In?
Mental health is a subset of behavioral health. Mental health conditions can affect how we think, feel, and behave. They can also lead to physical health problems. Mental health care can help patients manage their challenges and improve their quality of life.
The Role of Nursing in Behavioral Health
Nurses are vital to the healthcare system. They connect all of the important components of a patient’s situation to assist in treating the “whole person.”
This is essential when it comes to behavioral health. Behaviors rarely stem from one singular factor. A nurse’s role in patient care can help with observations and patient discovery. This information then helps other medical professionals diagnose and treat related physical and mental concerns.
Behavioral health nurses are multifaceted. Nurses implement treatment plans and ensure patient care. They show a broad range of nursing skills, as well as practical knowledge of communication, emotional intelligence, and a healthy dose of compassion.
Despite all the progress we’ve made in recent years, behavioral health still has a huge stigma. Mental health disorders are still seen as something to be ashamed of, and people who suffer from them are often reluctant to seek help.
One of the greatest responsibilities of nurses in behavioral health is to help remove that stigma. Nurses can support this by educating the public about behavioral and mental health care and by showing empathy for patients dealing with related issues.
What are the career options for behavioral health nurses?
There are countless ways to pursue your nursing career in behavioral health. Behavioral health nurses work in a variety of settings including acute care, treatment centers, schools, and more.
1. Psychiatric & Mental Health Nursing
Psychiatric nurses can work in smaller private practices to an in-patient facility or hospital ward. The complexities around mental illness and mental health conditions can be challenging but also rewarding in ways you can’t imagine. This career can change your life as well as your patients’.
Psych nurses may help provide medication management, individual and group therapy, case management, and crisis intervention. They also work to promote mental health and wellness in their patients.
2. Addiction and Recovery Nursing
When it comes to behavioral health nursing, one of the most prominent settings is addiction and recovery facilities. Whether it’s inpatient or outpatient treatment, nurses are the glue that holds everything together.
Nurses in these facilities observe and care for patients during very vulnerable and difficult times. They provide care and support to patients as they detox and recover from substance abuse. They also play a vital role in the continuum of care, ensuring that patients are able to transition smoothly from one stage of treatment to the next.
3. School Nursing
Behavioral health is at the forefront of school nursing for a variety of reasons. School nurses work with students who have behavioral issues, special needs, or mental health issues.
School nurses also assist with students existing conditions and help ensure that they’re following treatment guidelines from their healthcare team. There are different types of roles for school nurses and each career option can be very rewarding.
What are the requirements for becoming a behavioral health nurse?
First, you will need either an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Then you have to earn a registered nurse (RN) license. This can be done with a 2 or 4-year degree program at an accredited institution.
Then you will need to sit for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). Once you have passed this exam, you can work in the field and receive on-the-job training. You can focus your clinical training in a behavioral health nursing specialty or purse a higher certification, like the Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing Certificate from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).
One of the great things about being a behavioral health nurse is that you have the opportunity to work in many different settings. Each setting has its own unique challenges and rewards, so you can find the one that best fits your skills and interests.
As an in-demand nursing specialty, behavioral health is great for job security and career growth. If you are someone who really cares about making a difference in the lives of patients and their families, this is the career path for you!
the shc blog