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Behavioral Health Nurses

What is a Behavioral Health nurse?

Behavioral health nurses specialize in promoting the mental health of their patients. Also known as psychiatric-mental health (PMH) nurses, they work in a wide variety of contexts and with individuals, families, groups, and communities. 

"Psychiatric-mental health nurses form strong therapeutic relationships with people experiencing mental illnesses and/or substance use disorders, and often with their families as well." Other general responsibilities of behavioral health nurses include assessment, diagnosis, and the subsequent planning of care for mental health conditions. (APNA)


Where does a behavioral health nurse work? 

PMH-RNs can work in a variety of different settings:

  • Hospitals
  • Primary care settings
  • Schools
  • Telemedicine
  • Public health facilities
  • Substance use facilities
  • Nursing homes
  • Private Practices


While there are many different settings in which a behavioral health nurse can work, most PMH-NPs work in inpatient settings that have traditional working hours with some night shifts when they are on call. 


What does a PMH do?

While the role and responsibilities of a PMH-RN change depending on your workplace, responsibilities may include

  • Assess dysfunction, evaluate progress
  • Assist patient with coping abilities
  • Administer/prescribe psychotropic medications, monitor their side effects
  • Promoting general health
  • Administering/monitoring psychobiological treatments 
  • Providing health education
  • Assisting with crisis intervention/management
  • Offering basic counseling
  • Acting as the patient's case manager, coordinating and supporting care with other healthcare professionals

(Medical News Today)

What makes a PMH unique?

PMH nurses work in many different contexts and serve varied roles - for this reason, PMH nursing requires nursing, psychosocial, neurobiological expertise. (APNA) Often times a PMH nurse will do similar things to a social worker, or psychiatrist with the job title of a nurse - PMH nurses can even prescribe medication! This comprehensive approach to nursing is a product of broader changes to our understanding of health and wellness. Mental health, mental trauma, and traumatic brain injuries have become central concerns of health care in recent decades, and the subsequent rise of Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing aligns with these shifts. In that sense, behavioral health nursing is a recent advent. However, behavioral health nursing should not be looked at as being drastically different from other types of nursing, nor should it be understood as a drastic shift in the profession. All nurses know that prevention, early disease identification, and intervention influence positive results. These same core components are central to psychiatric mental health nursing - for example, consider early screening for depression and anxiety.

(Behavioral health: A Natural Nursing Fit, Robinson, Maryann E.)

Fun Facts!

  1. On average, PMHNPs have 12.8 years of experience.
  2. Full-time PMHNPs have a median total annual income — which includes base salary, productivity bonuses, incentive payments and more — of $137,000.
  3. On average, full-time NPs certified in psychiatric mental health reported that they see approximately 15 patients per day.
  4. The top clinical focus areas for PMHNPs are psychiatry/psychology and behavioral health/addiction.
  5. The top practice settings for NPs certified in psychiatric mental health are behavioral health/addictions clinics, psychiatric mental health facilities and private NP practices.