Mental health nurses serve patients of all ages and abilities. People need good mental health services regardless of their age. Traumatic events, behavioural issues and more do not discriminate based on age. When mental health needs are met at a younger age, it is possible to avoid some future trauma.

Children and teenagers go through a lot of changes and emotions as they grow and mature. It is important that they are well supported throughout their formative years. Advances in technology have led to children and teenagers being stimulated by a variety of smartphones, computers, social media, video games and more. While there are positives to the availability of information and interactions, there are also major downsides. Mental health nurses must be prepared for issues such as online bullying, sexual harassment and more.

Issues with self-image, confidence and world events are all too common

Younger people are also vulnerable to those who take advantage where they can. Also, when you consider that food insecurity, homelessness and substance abuse are on the rise across all age groups, you can see just how serious the need is for good mental health services for younger people.

Some mental health issues have genetic components that require consistent treatment and monitoring. Discovering chemical imbalances and other issues earlier allows someone to learn how to cope with their condition better than if it goes untreated until they are an adult.

Adult mental health needs

20s-30s

During this time period, many adults are studying for degrees and working toward career goals. Plenty of people in this age group are also thinking about or beginning to start families. Juggling a lot of demands and trying to establish a career can be stressful for even the most well-adjusted person. Some careers can be particularly demanding, and adults in their 20s and 30s may feel that if they are not completely committed to their careers at all times, they won’t be able to make up for it later in terms of promotions or additional income.

Mental health nurses can help younger adults who are stressed by offering them referrals to counsellors or assessing them for further psychiatric evaluation if their mental health needs seem serious enough. Helping adults to find a good work-life balance and figuring out ways to manage negative thoughts can work wonders for many, but for those who need more, a mental health nurse can lead them toward a treatment plan that meets their needs.

Seniors

Older adults are more at risk of isolation. The likelihood of physical health issues increases as we age and can lead to mental health problems. A mental health nurse can evaluate and consider all the health needs of older adults. Dealing with the issues of aging, such as decreased mobility or the ability to do some activities that are important to a patient, can be very difficult. Mental health nurses can assess and help patients find ways to do activities that they may find enjoyable. They can also help patients interact with others so that they can avoid the isolation that can come with aging in the modern world.

Treatment planning and psychotherapeutic interventions

All mental health patients need to have a realistic treatment plan in place. Creating this plan involves a series of sessions and steps to ensure that it is a good fit for them and their families.

Initial assessment

All patients must get an initial assessment to determine their immediate mental health concerns and needs. If the appointment or intake is due to an immediate emergency or serious episode, then attempts to stabilise and de-escalate the situation should be made.

An assessment involves asking patients a series of questions and screeners that can help with a diagnosis. For example, if the patient appears to be having some depressive thoughts or abnormal anxiety, they might be given a screening exam in the form of questions to determine the severity of their symptoms. Using these tools can allow mental health professionals to make a faster and more accurate diagnosis so that treatment can begin faster.

Immediate solutions and coping mechanisms

Dealing with the immediate needs of the patient comes first. This may involve getting them started with counselling services. A mental health counsellor can help patients explore their emotions and discover what feelings are causing the most trouble. Counsellors can also provide support as a patient works through their treatment plan.

Medications may be used temporarily or long term to help mental health patients overcome mental and physical challenges. For example, those overcoming substance abuse may need medication to help them with withdrawal symptoms and depression.

Long-term goals and solutions

Having some idea of where you want to be in the next six months, year and beyond can be reassuring, and it is also helpful when establishing a treatment plan and goals. Long-term plans must be based on realistic goals. This means setting up a series of small goals and milestones that can be celebrated as they are achieved. Small steps lead to major results and increase the odds of long-term success.

Making huge goals and not achieving them can result in overall failure and relapses. It is far better to start small and work toward those smaller milestones. For some people, simply getting out of bed and applying for a job will be a huge achievement at the beginning of their treatment.

Periodic evaluation and assessment

All mental health patients must check in periodically to see if their treatment plan is working for them or if there are additional issues or needs that have to be addressed. In the beginning, check-ins will likely need to be more frequent, but as a patient surpasses milestones and gains confidence and trust, time periods between check-ins may be increased.

No plan is perfect. Throughout treatment, a plan may need to be expanded or adjusted. Additional circumstances may occur, or a patient may progress more slowly or quickly than expected.

Interventions

There are various types of interventions. Some interventions involve more people than others, but the one thing they all have in common is that they must be well planned or they can have some detrimental effects. For example, an intervention where multiple family members sit down to talk with another family member who is addicted to a substance or behaving erratically could make the individual feel bullied or worthless.

Major interventions must be done with a lot of care and empathy. Hostility may occur, but it should not come from those who are staging the intervention. It can be helpful to have a trained mental health professional available to help both sides talk to each other and stay calm. Having a mediator and meeting in a comfortable atmosphere can increase the odds that an intervention will go well.

Other types of interventions may involve removing aspects of a person’s life that are contributing to undesirable behaviour. A student who is experiencing problems at school with specific people may switch schools or be assigned to a different classroom.

An adult individual may need to put distance between themselves and friends who enable their behaviour.

Behavioural interventions may also include helping a patient learn to stop the chain of events that leads to their undesirable behaviour. Learning to avoid triggering thoughts and situations and how to control emotional responses plays a large role in interventions.

Tips for improving skills and becoming a mental health nurse

If you are a working registered nurse (RN), you may want to consider a Post Master’s Cert PMHNP. The program from Spring Arbor University is designed for working nurses who want to take their careers to the next level. Students complete one course every seven weeks with a week off in between. This more relaxed schedule still allows you to complete your degree in 16 to 22 months depending on how many prerequisite courses you need to take.

During your studies, you will complete 500 clinical hours and be prepared to take your licensing exams to become a fully licensed mental health family nurse practitioner.

Volunteer

While earning your degree, you should consider taking advantage of any opportunities to gain experience in a different setting. If you have your RN license, then you should have no problem finding ample opportunities. When it comes time to do your clinical placements, you should consider doing them at different types of facilities and locations.

Take the time to become more culturally aware

Practically everywhere is becoming more culturally diverse. It is important that mental health professionals take the time to learn about other cultures and customs. Cultural awareness should include trying to understand the challenges that different groups face and how this can affect the type of care they seek or receive. Overcoming obstacles that prevent these groups from seeking mental health services when they need them should be a goal of any mental health professional.

Network and attend seminars

Networking with other mental health professionals can open the door to opportunities to learn. Attending seminars, lectures and other events will allow you to stay on top of what is going on in the industry.

New treatments and methods are always being developed. Even tried-and-tested treatments and methods can often be improved over the years. Networking can also help expose you to better job opportunities throughout the course of your career.

Improve your communication skills

Providing good mental health care means that you need to have impeccable communication skills. It is important to be able to communicate well with people from many different backgrounds and express empathy whenever it is appropriate.

Good written communication skills are also important. Taking good clinical notes and being able to get your point across quickly in emails and text messages will make your job a lot easier and help to avoid any miscommunications and misunderstandings.

Using appropriate body language to help make patients more comfortable and trusting is yet another aspect of communication that is easy to overlook but very important when trying to get patients to open up to you.

Demand for mental health nurses has never been higher

Unfortunately, the mental health of the general public has declined in recent times and it appears that we have a lot of work to do before we can expect things to change. The COVID-19 pandemic in particular heavily contributed to an overall decline in mental health.

Those who already faced mental health challenges often saw their outlook become worse. At least part of these declines can be attributed to the shortage of workers during this time. Many nurses were diverted into caring for the physically ill. Many patients did not keep up with appointments because of social distancing measures.

Substance abuse issues play a role in many mental health cases, and this will continue to be a trend for the foreseeable future. Mental health nurses must be prepared to diagnose and help those with substance abuse issues.

Conclusion

Mental health nurses help take care of the mental health needs of people from children to aging adults. The lack of mental health care resources in North America is alarming and steps must be taken to increase outreach and make care available to people from all backgrounds.

Interventions play an important role in eliminating and stopping behaviours before they increase in severity. A well-planned and executed intervention can eliminate the need for mental health care services in the future and lead to a patient having a better education and chance of success.