Evidence-Based Practice in Nursing for Mental Health Nurses

View all blog posts under Articles | View all blog posts under Doctor of Nursing Practice | View all blog posts under Master of Science in Nursing

A nurse holds hands with a patient.

The nursing profession has long taken the lead in practicing evidence-based care. Evidence-based care relies on nurses’ clinical expertise, critical thinking, and research knowledge. Nurses use this skill set to support patient care decisions and as a lens through which to view patient outcomes.

Evidence-based practice in nursing may be even more crucial for mental health nurse practitioners. Mental and behavioral health disorders are complex, as patients may suffer from two or more diagnoses. Additionally, patients may be homeless or incarcerated, making treatment even more difficult.

An advanced degree program that supplies a rigorous background in evidence-based practice is essential for any nurse planning a career in mental and behavioral health.

What Are Evidence-Based Mental Health Services?

Evidence-based mental health services recognize that patients don’t just need therapeutic care; they may also suffer from loss of housing and income, among other basic needs. They may live in high-crime areas and are more likely to be incarcerated. Evidence-based mental health services often combine psychiatric and therapeutic treatment with services that include helping patients find housing, employment, and other support.

The following are some examples of evidence-based practices and treatments supported by SAMHSA. Mental health nurses engaged in evidence-based nursing practice may employ these treatments to support individuals dealing with mental and behavioral health issues.

Assertive Community Treatment (ACT)

Assertive community treatment seeks to provide behavioral health services in the community setting. The framework serves conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression. ACT services seek to maintain outpatient treatments and ensure regular, ongoing therapies.

Using the framework, various health care practitioners provide services such as assistance with activities of daily living (ADL), help managing family responsibilities, and support in securing important needs such as food and housing.

Integrated Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders

Integrated treatment delivers dual treatments for patients diagnosed with behavioral health and substance abuse disorders. By combining the two services, patients usually have a better chance of making a full, long-term recovery.

Practitioners provide patients with services and resources such as case management, outreach, housing, and employment assistance. The framework aids the high-risk dual diagnoses population, who are more likely to relapse and resume substance use, suffer from poor health, or face homelessness.

 Illness Management and Recovery (IMR)

Illness management and recovery is an evidence-based psychiatric treatment framework for patients with a severe mental illness, such as schizophrenia. It’s designed to allow patients to participate actively in their own recoveries. During ongoing weekly sessions, behavioral health practitioners help patients develop treatment plans and identify goals. This may encompass teaching recovery methodologies, behavioral health facts, and stress management techniques.

Practitioners also teach patients how to build and maintain social support networks, reduce the chances of resuming drug use, and use prescribed medications effectively. The teaching techniques of this framework might also include cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational sessions.

Permanent Supportive Housing

Homelessness is a complex challenge in treating people with mental health and substance use disorders. Not only can homelessness worsen a patient’s mental health condition, but it also makes them physically vulnerable to violence, disease, and incarceration. According to SAMHSA, the longer a person experiences homelessness, the harder it is to get them the treatment they need. The agency recommends moving people to permanent housing, with additional support services including therapy, treatment, financial support, and training services, without requiring transitional steps such as getting sober first.

Screening for Postpartum Depression

A study in BMC Psychiatry found nearly 20% of mothers experience postpartum depression, which can impact the health of the mother and the child. Screening and treating pregnant mothers for perinatal depression (depression during pregnancy) can help reduce instances of postpartum depression and in some cases improve the physical and mental health of babies.

Additional Treatments for Mental and Behavioral Health

Many mental health treatment practices are evidence-based and numerous studies have reinforced their effectiveness. Some of the most common evidence-based techniques for treating mental health, behavioral health, and substance use include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), helps patients change patterns of behavior.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), is based on CBT practices, while also focusing on emotion regulation and mindfulness, among other techniques. It is shown to be effective in treating various mental health disorders.
  • Motivational interviewing, uses open questions, affirmations, reflection, and summarizing to help people overcome substance use disorders.

Some therapies are not considered evidence-based, even though they may be popular and effective, such as:

  • 12-step programs: Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) pioneered the 12-step process. Some aspects of 12-step programs can be very effective in helping individuals deal with substance use.
  • Talk therapy: A traditional form of therapy, talk therapy is widely used on its own and in conjunction with other treatments.

The Role of Doctors of Nursing Practice (DNPs) in Evidence-Based Practice

In the United States, more Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs are emerging to fill the anticipated shortage of health care talent. The nation needs these professionals to fill the service gaps faced by underserved populations in settings such as rural communities, schools, prisons, and urgent care facilities.

DNP-educated nurses are well-positioned to bring the evidence-based nursing practice to the communities they serve. With their background in research and clinical practice, they can lead the establishment of evidence-based plans and criteria at hospitals, clinics, and government agencies.

Become a Leader in Evidence-Based Nursing

Are you eager to become a leader in the field of mental health nursing? The Regis College online MSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice program offers an excellent foundation in evidence-based nursing practice, equipping you with the tools to embrace the exciting challenges of delivering best-in-class mental and behavioral health services. The curriculum includes classes in advanced research, informatics and statistics, cultural perspectives in health care, and more. Explore your options and take your first steps to make a difference in nursing.

Recommended Reading

What Is a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner?

How Nurse Practitioners Can Become Community Advocates

10 Best Practices to Promote Cultural Awareness in the Nursing Profession


Behavioral Health Resources, “PACT: Program for Assertive Community Treatment”

BMC Psychiatry, “Screening Programs for Common Maternal Mental Health Disorders Among Perinatal Women: Report of the Systematic Review of Evidence”

Frontiers in Psychiatry, “Effects of Illness Management and Recovery: A Multicenter Randomized Controlled Trial”

Psychology Today, “From Evidence-Based Practice to Practice-Based Evidence”

THERAPlatform, “ Evidence-Based Practices for Mental Health”

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “About the Evidence-Based Practices Resource Center”

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “The Case for Screening and Treatment of Co-Occurring Disorders”

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Homelessness Resources: Housing and Shelter”

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, “Mental Health Myths and Facts”