In 2020, 52.9 million people in the U.S. had a form of mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Even more staggering is that about 6% of adults in the U.S. (14.2 million people) experience a mental illness symptom at least once a year that is so severe it affects their daily lives. To put those figures into perspective, approximately 1 of 5 American adults has some form of mental illness, and about 2 of 25 have one so severe that it hinders their quality of life at least once a year.
With such a pronounced need for mental health awareness, diagnosis, and care, health care professionals who specialize in mental health needs — such as psychiatric nurse practitioners — are in particularly high demand. The strong psychiatric nurse practitioner job outlook reflects this heightened demand.
A psychiatric nurse specializes in dealing with the occurrence of mental illness in an individual, a group, a family, or a community, according to the American Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA). Psychiatric nurse practitioners possess the education, certification, and licensing to provide advanced care, often working with primary care and other specialty health care providers.
Pursuing an advanced education, such as an online post-master’s certificate in psychiatric mental health, can help nurses gain the knowledge, skills, and experience to pursue new career opportunities and earn a psychiatric nurse practitioner salary.
What Does a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Do?
Psychiatric nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses who specialize in mental health treatment, known as psychiatric mental health nursing (PMHN).
It is the responsibility of the psychiatric nurse to keep track of medication and patient interactions. Their duties may include the following:
- Tracking the daily functions of a patient, including whether they are eating properly, sleeping, getting dressed, and generally able to take care of themselves independently
- Diagnosing any number of mental health illnesses based on the symptoms and behaviors the patient presents
- Aiding patients in maintaining their mental and physical health through nutrition and exercise
- Determining whether a patient is fit mentally, socially, and emotionally
- Guiding patients to cultivate more positive and healthier behaviors and thought processes
- Assisting patients in dealing with difficult relationship situations and interpersonal interactions
- Helping patients come to terms with, and ultimately overcome, drug and substance misuse
- Developing outreach programs that can help a community understand and help those within the community who suffer from mental illness
Psychiatric nurse practitioners help assess, diagnose, and recommend courses of treatment for mental health disorders. Many also provide therapy and prescribe medications. On a daily basis, they may review patient histories, carry out evaluations, work with psychiatrists, and interact with patients and their families.
Some of the most common mental health issues patients face include:
- Anxiety disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Bipolar disorder
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Job Outlook
The demand for psychiatric nurse practitioners is projected to rise as the U.S. population increases. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the employment of all nurse practitioners will grow by 52% between 2020 and 2030. This is much higher than the 8% average growth projected for all professions.
Advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), including nurse practitioners, will be in high demand — particularly in medically underserved areas, such as inner cities and rural areas. The BLS predicts that there will be 29,400 new job openings across the U.S. every year between 2020 and 2030. An aging population that requires more care than younger adults is among the factors driving the BLS’s projected demand for nurse practitioners.
The demand will be particularly great for psychiatric nurse practitioners. In June 2022, the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) reported that 151 million Americans lived in mental health professional shortage areas. That total is nearly as large as the combined populations in primary and dental health care shortage areas. HRSA indicated those areas need 7,584 mental health care practitioners to fill the gap.
In 2020, Minority Nurse reported on other factors — in addition to an aging population — that were contributing to the strong demand and positive job outlook for psychiatric nurse practitioners. Among the reasons behind the projected job growth were:
- Expanded insurance coverage for mental health care under the Affordable Care Act
- Increased awareness of the importance of mental health
- Additional mental health care needs of U.S. veterans after their service in Iraq and Afghanistan
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Salary
Psychiatric nurse practitioners earned a median annual salary of about $113,300, according to June 2022 data from compensation website PayScale. Psychiatric nurse practitioners can work as specialists and primary care providers whose clients visit them in their offices. They can also work in a variety of medical facilities or mental health institutions, where they oversee patients who have had severe mental health crises.
As in all careers, various factors may impact a psychiatric nurse practitioner’s salary, including their experience and location. Psychiatric nurse practitioners in the following cities earned median annual salaries that were at least 20% greater than the national median annual salary in June 2022, according to PayScale:
- Sacramento, CA — 46%
- Phoenix, AZ — 32%
- Riverside, CA — 26%
- Los Angeles, CA — 24%
- San Francisco, CA — 24%
- Columbia, MO — 21%
- San Diego, CA — 21%
Nurse practitioners with this specialty with 20 or more years of job experience have the highest median annual salary nationally, about $120,600, according to Payscale.
Necessary Skills for Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners
Treating mental health disorders is a complex and difficult task. Professionals must have a few crucial skills that can help them navigate the intricacies of the mental health care field and provide their patients with the best possible care. Possessing the following key skills can influence a psychiatric nurse practitioner’s job outlook and help them stand out from other candidates.
Psychiatric nurse practitioners must use their extensive medical knowledge to review a patient’s history and current medical data to properly diagnose the patient’s mental health status. Their analytical capacity allows psychiatric nurse practitioners to gain a big-picture view as well as to focus on small details. They can therefore develop tailored and efficient long-term plans of therapy and care.
A psychiatric nurse practitioner helps patients throughout their mental health treatment process. For this reason, problem-solving skills are especially valuable. Identifying risk factors and finding ways to broach sensitive topics often require an on-the-spot problem-solving ability.
Psychiatric nurse practitioners must also have a flexible enough mindset to pivot and replan as a situation demands, such as with an influx of new case information or potential new treatment options. When problems arise in the patient’s treatment plan, it is often the responsibility of the psychiatric nurse practitioner to find alternative solutions to keep moving forward.
Mental health issues are often stigmatized by society. Many patients seeking mental help may not be forthcoming out of anxiety, fear, shame, or another factor. When patients open up, psychiatric nurse practitioners must act with the utmost professionalism at all times. This unwavering, compassionate, and professional attitude is also an excellent way to build patient-nurse trust.
A psychiatric nurse practitioner is an APRN and a high-level medical specialist. Further specialization in mental health naturally increases the number of requirements that are necessary to fill the position.
Before becoming an APRN, a nursing professional must first become a registered nurse (RN), which requires a nursing degree from either a two-year associate degree program, three-year hospital-based diploma program, or four-year university bachelor’s degree program.
Graduates may then go on to specialize in mental health by choosing an advanced program of study. For example, a Master of Science in Nursing degree allows students to expand their skills, credentials, and abilities to impact their area of specialty.
Once a professional has the required education, they need certification to become a psychiatric mental health advanced practice nurse (PMH APN). A professional in the PMH APN path has one of two accreditation options: psychiatric mental health clinical nurse specialist (PMHCNS) or psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP).
Individual nursing boards regulate the accreditation exams. For example, the American Nurses Credentialing Center offers a psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner board certification (PMHNP-BC).
Help Treat Mental Health
Psychiatric nurse practitioners are on the front lines of the mental health treatment community, connecting patients to the care they need. These NPs are highly trained professionals who play an integral role in articulating and implementing new mental health care models and treatment solutions within the U.S. health care system.
The opportunity to make a difference for the many people who struggle with mental health issues, along with the strength of psychiatric nurse practitioners’ job outlook and salary, can make the profession a rewarding one to pursue.
If you’re interested in treating patients with mental health issues as a psychiatric nurse practitioner, explore how Regis College’s online post-master’s certificates in nursing specializations, including the Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner specialization, can help you advance your career.