Mental Health Nurse

Mental Health Nurses work alongside patients to improve their wellbeing and recovery from mental health problems.

The Role(s)

Mental health nurses work in the community, and specialist mental health hospitals and units. Often they work with people over long periods, providing therapies, helping people understand the nature of their illness, how to stay well and how to cope in a crisis. 

Being able to understand things from each person’s point of view is a key skill, no matter what their background, or the problems they face. This includes being aware of and being able to challenge stigma and discrimination, as this can affect people and hinder their recovery from mental illness.

Mental health nurses deliver a range of different therapies to support patient recovery and help them stay well. They work along other nursing staff, psychiatrists, psychologists, GP doctors, social care staff as well as family members and carers.

Skills, Interests and Abilities

To become a mental health nurse, useful skills include:

  • A good levels of physical fitness
  • the ability to work in a team environment
  • confidence
  • tact
  • strong oral and written communication skills
  • good relationship building skills

 As a mental health nurse, you will need to be:

  • patient and understanding
  • being compassionate and sensitive
  • able to remain calm under pressure

Entry Requirements

All nurses working in NHSScotland must be registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), once they have graduated from an approved educational institution. In Scotland, the list of NMC approved educational institutions includes:

The minimum academic entry requirements for nursing degrees vary, but most universities in Scotland require SQA Higher BBC grades, including English and a science subject. A pass in National 5 English and Maths grade A - C is also required, if these subjects are not achieved at SQA Higher grade.

Specific entry requirements, including other accepted qualifications, are provided on each university website. To apply for a nursing programme you must use the UCAS application process.

You can visit the NMC website for a full list of approved educational institutions and nursing programmes across the UK.

Scottish Wider Access Programme – Nursing (SCQF Level 6)

This programme is for adults returning to education, perhaps changing career or seeking to gain the equivalent university entry qualifications needed for nursing. There are no formal entry qualifications, but applicants should have a good standard of general education and have been away from formal education for a minimum of 2 – 3 years.

Successful completion of the course could lead to:

  • A degree in nursing by applying to universities that participate in the SWAP partnership programme
  • HNC Social Care
  • NHC Additional Support Needs
  • NHC Care

Please visit the Scottish Wider Access Programme (SWAP) website for more information.

Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) background checks

To work as a nurse in NHSScotland, you will be subject to occupational health checks and background checks, such as the Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) scheme. The scheme is managed by Disclosure Scotland.

Modern Apprenticeships

Modern Apprenticeships offer those aged over 16 paid employment with the opportunity to train for jobs at craft, technician and management level.

The Modern Apprenticeship in Healthcare Support (clinical) at SCQF Level 6 and SCQF Level 7 is a framework for people interested in working in a clinical setting. For more information, about this Modern Apprenticeship framework, look at:


Learning and Development

Once registered as a mental health nurse, there are on-going requirements for education and skills development and a host of opportunities to go further and learn more. During your first year as a newly qualified nurse, you'll get extra support and guidance through the Flying Start programme.

All nursing roles, along with rates of pay, are outlined in a national document – the Career Framework for Health

A registered nurse enters the profession as a ‘Level 5 Practitioner.’ They can choose to stay at that level, keeping up-to-date through Continuing Professional Development (CPD) or undertake further learning and development, both in the workplace and through courses. This can lead to progression through the career pathway to Senior, Advanced or Consultant level.

Nurses at all levels need to show strong clinical leadership. Students and healthcare support workers look to staff nurses for guidance and support, while at higher levels nurses may lead teams, departments or services. This leadership role includes motivating and empowering staff to treat all patients with dignity, privacy and compassion and taking responsibility for ensuring excellence in clinical care.

Senior nurses bring key knowledge and skills to specialist and multidisciplinary teams, while Nurse Consultants lead whole departments and services, informing practice and policy development at regional and national levels.

Once you've qualified and gained experience as a registered mental health nurse, there are a wide variety of specialisms to choose from, including: substance misuse, forensic mental health, early intervention, dementia care, children and young peoples’ mental health and community mental health. There are also opportunities to move in to service management, public health, voluntary or private sector organisations, research or education. Many mental health nurses combine aspects of these roles with on-going clinical practice.


Revalidation is a new process which nurses need to follow to maintain their registration with the NMC every 3 years.

The requirements for revalidation are:

  • 450 practice hours
  • 35 hours of CPD including 20 hours of participatory learning
  • Five pieces of practice-related feedback
  • Five written reflective accounts
  • Reflective discussion
  • Health and character declaration
  • Professional indemnity arrangement
  • Confirmation

Revalidation will be an ongoing process throughout your career and aims to promote good practice and to maintain and strengthen public confidence in the profession.

Professional Bodies

Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC)

The Nursing and Midwifery Council is the governing body for nurses and midwives, ensuring their knowledge and skills are up to date. Registered nurses must renew their professional registration with the Nursing and Midwifery Council every three years.

The NMC website also contains information about registration, training and professional standards for nurses and midwives in Scotland and the rest of the UK.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN)

The Royal College of Nursing is a professional body and Trade Union which represents nurses and nursing. It seeks to promote excellence in practice and to shape health policies. Find out more on the RCN website.