Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Career Outlook

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Nurse practitioner talks with patient in medical office.

Millions of Americans struggle with the challenges of mental illness. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), nearly 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. lives with a mental illness, placing an increasing demand on our health care system for resources and mental health care providers. Counselors, therapists, psychiatrists and psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners are among the essential professionals who help individuals in the process of managing mental, behavioral, emotional and psychiatric disorders.

Drawing on their experience and an advanced education such as a Master of Science in Nursing (M.S.N.) degree, psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) are able to provide much needed care and support to patients, fighting the stigma of seeking mental health care and sharing resources for a healthy lifestyle.

What Is a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner?

PMNNPs are one of several types of nurse practitioners who play an increasingly critical role in the health care system. They are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who’ve earned both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in nursing and  specialize in holistic mental health care practices, leading patients through the treatment and recovery process. Of the 355,000 nurse practitioners who are licensed to work in the U.S., nearly 5% currently work as psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP).

Psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners provide their patients with mental health care treatments, while working alongside other primary care providers and psychiatric care specialists to reach the best possible patient outcomes. This can come in the form of assessing, diagnosing and prescribing medications for their patients, and referring them to other professionals and specialists for care.

Having gained additional experience, education and certifications beyond their registered nurse (RN) licensure, PMHNPs are able to work in a variety of settings, often running their own practices in states that grant full practice authority.

What Does a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Do?

Psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners differ from other APRNs. While APRNs in other specialties focus on their patients’ physical symptoms and challenges, what psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners do involves treating patients with depression, psychiatric disorders, anxiety, insomnia, mood disorders and substance abuse problems, among other mental health issues.

Providing mental health care can be a challenging and highly nuanced form of care, requiring PMHNPs to have strong communication skills to build a rapport with their patients. After identifying patients’ mental health needs, PMHNPs create holistic treatment plans, prescribe medications and refer patients to specialists, if necessary. PMHNPs are also trained to offer emergency psychiatric care when certain situations arise.

Work environments vary for PMHNPs. They work in psychiatric-mental health facilities as well as in hospitals, physician’s offices, rehabilitation facilities and addiction treatment and recovery agencies. Many also have their own practices.

How to Become a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

Nursing professionals interested in learning how to become a psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner might begin by focusing on the challenges with mental illness that their patients with physical ailments face, which are often overlooked. One of the benefits of an M.S.N. is that it allows nurses to gain a more thorough knowledge of their field. Through the process of becoming a psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner, nursing leaders are able to make a positive impact in the lives of their patients and fight the stigma surrounding mental health care.

The steps to become a psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner include:

  • Become a registered nurse.
  • Build work experience within a medical organization.
  • Pursue an advanced degree in nursing with a specialization in psychiatric-mental health care.
  • Achieve national certification from a board-certified credentialing center.
  • Obtain licenses or certifications required by their individual state.

With a well-rounded education and experience in understanding and assessing mental health issues in clinical settings, PMHNPs are able to assist their patients through the healing process, providing them with tools and strategies to overcome problems such as depression and addiction.

Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Salary

Most medical facilities across the country offer nurse practitioners competitive salaries. The approximate median annual psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner salary as of August 2022 was $113,700 according to Payscale, while the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports a median annual salary of $123,780 as of May 2021 for all nurse practitioners. The BLS projects nurse practitioner jobs will grow by 52% between 2020 and 2030, significantly faster than the national average growth projected for all occupations.

Salaries for PMHNPs may vary based on geographic location, education level, years of experience and job facility, making pursuing additional certifications and education a valid method for increasing opportunities in higher-paying locations or competing for coveted senior level roles.

Earn a Master of Science in Nursing Degree

Advanced practice nurses play an invaluable role in our health care system and are in demand across the country. For individuals who are passionate about mental health and fighting its stigma, pursuing a rewarding career in psychiatric-mental health presents the opportunity to make an impact on the community and become a nursing leader at the same time.

For future nursing leaders who are ready to take the next step in their careers, pursuing a degree like the University of North Dakota’s online Master of Science in Nursing degree can be a key component to reaching their goals. A fully online program with three start dates, clinical placement assistance and the ability to specialize as a Family Nurse Practitioner or Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, the program from the University of North Dakota was designed to fit your career goals and needs. Learn more about how the program can help you pursue your professional goals as a psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner.

Recommended Reading:

Diversity in Nursing: Benefits and Resources

Is a D.N.P. Required for Nurse Practitioners?

What Is Family-Centered Care?


American Association of Nurse Practitioners, “Are You Considering a Career as Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner?

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, NP Fact Sheet

American Psychiatric Nurses Association, About Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing

National Institute of Mental Health, Mental Illness

Payscale, Average Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner (NP) Salary

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners