Health care is a human right and that includes mental health care. Period. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1 in 5 American adults have experienced a mental health issue, and 1 in 25 Americans live with serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or major depression.
Unfortunately, about 50% of people with severe psychiatric disorders do not receive treatment. That presents an issue for not only the people with mental health issues but to the greater community.
The truth is, people with untreated mental health issues pose a threat to themselves and others. Many factors contribute to these disturbing numbers. Primarily, the lack of treatment stems from a shortage of mental health providers.
There are areas where the mental health professionals’ ratio to residents is smaller than one per 30,000 people.
Mental health professionals aren’t just psychiatrists. There are various roles within the field that are non-traditional nursing or psychiatrist positions. Some of these include counselors, clinical social workers, family nurse practitioners, peer specialists and psychiatric nurses.
In this post, we will look into:
- The state of mental health care
- Solutions to the shortage
- Why psychiatric nurses are important
- How to become a psychiatric nurse
The state of mental health care
According to some, mental illness is the pandemic of the 21st century. Beyond a lack of mental health providers, there are several barriers to mental health care.
Some of the common barriers involve stigma, financial limitations and racial inequalities. Many people with mental health issues fear facing shame or discrimination if they disclose their mental illness. As such, some prefer to self-medicate to solve their problems, which only amplifies the issue.
Alternatively, many people can’t afford access to mental health care and go without it. From medication to therapist appointments, paying for mental health care can significantly burden people.
Another potential barrier to mental health care access involves a gap between different racial and ethnic groups. A recent study found that more than half all minorities facing severe mental illness don’t get treatment. Some patients also feel reluctant to seek out treatment if they feel like the clinician can’t empathize with their cultural background.
The mental health field is underfunded and short-staffed because there is a growing demand and dwindling supply. As older professionals leave the area, they aren’t replaced by younger professionals quickly enough. Additionally, state mental health cuts impact the funding for mental health care as well.
Many potential mental health professionals choose not to work in the field because they worry about violence in the workplace or misconceptions regarding pay.
One of the most important ways to solve this problem includes hiring more mental health practitioners and educating people about the field in general.
Solutions to the shortage
There are several ways to address this issue. People don’t have to go without their vital mental health services forever.
Telehealth: Telehealth appointments are online mental health sessions conducted by video (such as Skype or Zoom). These sessions are often more convenient for the patient and therapist. They are especially relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Having consistency helps and telehealth patients don’t have to worry about commuting to get to their appointments. Also, some people don’t have transportation access, so this is an ideal solution for that.
Though this won’t solve staff shortages, it will increase access to care.
Grants: There are several opportunities for funding through grants (non-repayable funds or resources). Specifically, The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides grants for mental health.
One grant they currently provide is the Mental Health Awareness Training Grants program. This program trains various groups (school personnel, first responders, law enforcement, veterans, armed service members and their families) to understand mental disorders’ signs and symptoms, specifically serious mental illness.
Community Initiatives: These are programs run by nonprofits or people within the community at large. The Centro de Bienestar program in San Jose, CA, exemplifies this. The initiative focuses on the Latino and Asian Pacific Islander residents of Santa Clara County. Some of its aims include developing self-image, self-esteem, severe depression and mental illness in general.
Why psychiatric nurses are important
As we mentioned earlier, one of the significant ways to address the shortage involves hiring more psychiatric nurses and mental health workers.
First, these nurses are essential to the field because they help provide greater access to people with mental health issues.
Specifically, they prescribe medicine and practice therapy. In many ways, they have a lot of the same duties as a psychiatrist.
They also uniquely address a patient’s mental and medical health needs.
Having more psychiatric nurses will help reduce the stigma around mental health and provide solace for patients.
The field also offers nurses a chance to specialize. Some of the specialties include clinical social workers to nurse practitioners, to psychiatric nursing.
Though psychiatrists are essential, there are many roles within the mental health field needing people.
How to become a psychiatric nurse
If psychiatric nurses feel under-trained, they may not want to stay on in the position. So, we can partially address the shortage by increasing the amount of training psychiatric nurses receive. One of the most important factors is having the funds to train the nurses properly.
To become a psychiatric nurse, a person must possess an associate degree or Bachelor of Science in Nursing and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) to receive licensure in their residence state.
Moreover, a psychiatric nurse must have:
- Two years’ experience as a full-time registered nurse
- 2,000 hours or more in clinical practice within mental health-psychiatric nursing within the last three years
- 30 hours of continuing education in mental health-psychiatric nursing
Some skills needed to become a psychiatric nurse are:
- Interpersonal Skills: Psychiatric nurses must have excellent one-on-one people skills since they provide patient assessments, communicate with colleagues about patients, and help educate family members on treatment plans and medications
- Problem-solving: As a psychiatric nurse, you will deal with all sorts of patient issues that arise on the floor. Knowing how to stay calm and react with critical, logical thinking can help you succeed within this position. You often need to respond quickly to prevent harm to a patient
- Ability to read non-verbal cues: Often, patients within mental health facilities aren’t able to verbalize their feelings. Therefore, it becomes paramount that a psychiatric nurse can notice subtle non-verbal cues that hint at the issue.
Psychiatric Nurse Salary
The average psychiatric nurse salary is about $61,736. For entry-level psychiatric nurses, the hourly rate is between $25-$35. For midlevel, it goes up to between $26-$42 and for advanced-level positions, it’s $28-$46.
There are several factors that influence salary estimations, from where you live to how much you’ve specialized. For example, if you live in a place with a higher cost of living like California, expect a higher salary.
There’s a myth that psychiatric nursing isn’t one of the better-paying nursing jobs. That’s not true. You can make a good living in this field and it needs more people.
To conclude, people across the country require mental health care and it’s a profitable and fulfilling field to join. It takes the right kind of person to make a difference.