Mental health nurse

Mental health nurses help people improve their wellbeing and recovery from mental health problems. They work in hospitals, in the community and in people’s homes.

To work in the NHS, nurses must be registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC).

Starting your career

Choosing subjects at school

To get on a course that could lead to a career in nursing, useful subjects include:

  • Biology
  • Human Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Care
  • Psychology
  • English
  • Maths

Work placement and volunteering

You may find it helpful to get some experience of working in healthcare by doing a work placement. There may also be opportunities to volunteer. This could help you when applying to university, college or a new job with NHSScotland.


Foundation Apprenticeships

A Foundation Apprenticeship could give you the skills, knowledge and work experience to become a mental health nurse.

Find out more about a Foundation Apprenticeship in Social Service and Healthcare

Modern Apprenticeships

Begin or continue your journey towards becoming a mental health nurse by completing a Modern Apprenticeship.

Learn about the Modern Apprenticeship in Healthcare Support.

All Healthcare Support modern apprentices study the three mandatory units of communication, health and safety, and learning development. For nursing, you will then choose your remaining units from the clinical pathway options.

College and university

At college, you can do an HNC in Healthcare Practice, which could lead to an undergraduate pre-registration nursing degree.

Widening participation supports adult learners who want to go to university. If you’re an adult with few or no qualifications, you can get into higher education through the Scottish Wider Access Programme (SWAP). Many universities also provide access programmes to help learners get the degree entry qualifications they need.

Fully-funded degree-level nursing programmes through the Open University are available if you’re an experienced nursing support worker who wants to become a registered nurse.

The following universities in Scotland offering undergraduate programmes in mental health nursing, approved by the NMC:

  • Abertay University
  • Edinburgh Napier University
  • Glasgow Caledonian University
  • Robert Gordon University
  • The Open University
  • University of Dundee
  • University of Stirling
  • University of the Highlands and Islands
  • University of the West of Scotland

Pre-registration undergraduate programmes usually take 3 - 4 years full-time study. Part-time options and distance learning opportunities may also be available.

Some universities offer an accelerated postgraduate masters-level route for pre-registration nursing, which takes 2 to 2.5 years.

For more information on related further and higher education courses, search My World of Work

The role

As a mental health nurse, you would deliver a range of different therapies to support patient recovery and help them stay well. Often, you’d work with people over long periods, helping them understand the nature of their illness 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 the stigma around mental health. Discrimination can affect people and hinder their recovery from mental illness.

What you’ll do

Tasks include:

  • making sure people get the help and support they need
  • encouraging people to take part in art, music or dramatherapy sessions
  • providing physical support where needed
  • assessing people who may be at risk of self-harm or harming others
  • making sure people take their medications correctly

Top skills

You’ll need these skills:

  • caring
  • listening
  • problem-solving
  • communication
  • teamworking
  • critical thinking

As a mental health nurse, you’ll also need to be able to review treatment plans to make decisions about care. 

Who you’ll work with

Mental health nurses usually work in a team with other health and social care professionals, including:

  • psychiatrists
  • GP’s
  • psychologists
  • healthcare support workers
  • occupational therapists
  • social workers
  • art therapists
  • music therapists
  • dramatherapists

Working environment

As a mental health nurse in the NHS, you could work in:

  • mental health hospitals
  • GP practices
  • health centres
  • prisons
  • residential homes
  • a person’s own home

Useful information

To work as a mental health nurse in NHSScotland, you’ll need to:

Did you know?

There are over 47,900 registered nurses working in the NHS in Scotland.

Learning and development

Once registered as a mental health nurse, there are ongoing requirements for education and skills development. You’ll also have lots of opportunities to go further and learn more.

In your first year as a newly qualified nurse, you’ll get extra support and guidance through the Flying Start programme.

In the NHS, you may choose to be a staff nurse throughout your nursing career, keeping up to date through continuing professional development. Taking extra courses and workplace learning could lead to progression through the career pathway to senior, advanced or consultant level.

When 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
  • community mental health

There are also opportunities to move into 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 process that nurses need to follow to maintain their registration with the NMC every 3 years.

It is an ongoing process throughout your career as a nurse and aims to:

  • promote good practice
  • maintain and strengthen public confidence in the profession

Find out more about revalidation on the NMC website.

Professional bodies

To become a mental health nurse, you must register with: