Working as a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

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Psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) work with individuals, families and communities to address mental health needs, including diagnosing patients and implementing plans of care. They focus on mental illness, substance abuse and mental health in vulnerable populations.

PMHNPs are advanced practice nurses who assess, diagnose and treat mental health needs. Working as a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner means helping a largely underserved population and meeting the rising demand for quality mental health services nationwide.

“The psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner role serves every facet of health care because health cannot exist without mental health,” the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) said in “Are You Considering a Career as Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner?”. “The title embraces its definition: PMHNPs serve the public by preventing, identifying and treating psychiatric conditions through holistic approaches in many ways. PMHNPs assure mental health from pre-conception through the lifespan to end-of-life care and grief.”

Indeed, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners fill a widening gap in the healthcare system. Registered nurses (RNs) enrolled in Duquesne University’s Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner MSN program, including the online master’s in nursing program, can develop the skills necessary to help patients with mental disorders.

Why Become a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner?

Nationwide, the shortage of mental health providers has left many patients without much-needed care. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), more than 5,500 geographic areas, population groups and facilities (such as prisons and tribal clinics) have been designated mental health Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs). As of June 2020, only 27% of mental-health needs are being met in the HPSAs.

The Mental Health America advocacy group found that only 28.2% of youth with severe mental health disorders were receiving consistent treatment and more than 10 million adults had unmet mental health needs.

In its State of Mental Health in America 2020, Mental Health America also noted that:

  1. Youth mental health is getting worse: From 2012 to 2017, the prevalence of major depressive episodes among youth ages 12 to 17 increased from 8.66% to 13.01%.
  2. Adult prevalence of mental health problems remained relatively fixed, but suicidal ideations increased: The frequency of mental illness among adults increased from 18.19% in 2012 to 18.57% in 2017. Suicidal ideations have increased from 3.77% to 4.19% in the same time period.
  3. Substance abuse disorders have decreased in both youth and adults: Small but notable decreases have been seen in both youth and adults due to large-scale public health prevention campaigns.

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners Addressing Mental Health Needs

As nurse practitioners who are trained to specifically address mental health problems, PMHNPs help a wide range of patients. According to the American Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA), PMHNPs play a pivotal role in healthcare in several ways:

  • Screen, diagnose and provide care for mental-health and substance-abuse disorders
  • Perform interventions to aid those in crisis
  • Educate families, caregivers and the community
  • Coordinate patient care with other providers
  • Prescribe medications
  • Perform psychotherapy

In many states, PMHNPs are able to practice independent of a physician’s oversight, akin to regular NPs.

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners Career Outlook

According to the AANP, PMHNPs work in a variety of settings but the most common is a psychiatric mental health facility. PMHNPs most commonly treat depression, anxiety, insomnia and dementia and see about 13 patients per day. On average, a full-time PMHNP earns about $131,500 per year.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said the job outlook for NPs, in general, is very good. Overall, the employment of NPs is projected to grow by 26% from 2018 to 2028, which is much faster than average for all occupations.

Before beginning work as a PMHNP, RNs must complete advanced training in mental health and substance abuse. At Duquesne University, RNs study topics related to mental health and substance abuse diagnoses and treatment, policy development, healthcare reforms and quality improvements for patients.

Through Duquesne University’s online PMHNP-MSN program, students take coursework to learn about pharmacology, serious mental disorders, substance use disorders and healthcare ethics, among other topics.

About Duquesne University’s Online Master of Science in Nursing

Duquesne University’s online MSN programs prepare RNs to work as next-generation caregivers. The classes are presented online so nurses can continue their careers and personal lives while pursuing their educational goals. The university’s online PMHNP-MSN program prepares graduates to take the PMHNP certification exam.

The university also offers MSN degrees in other tracks:


AANP, “Are You Considering a Career as a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner? “
HHS, “Designated Health Professional Shortage Areas Statistics”
Mental Health America, “The State Of Mental Health In America”
APNA, “Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurses”
APNA, “Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurses Pivotal in Improving Patient Access To Care