The Importance of Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners in 2024

psychiatric nurse practitioner

Contrary to the conventional medical model which views mental health care as a specialty field, the American Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA) believes that psychiatric nurses should be seen as members of the primary care workforce. Because with mental health issues becoming as common as any other health issues, a psychiatric nurse have the potential to make a significant contribution to the field and the delivery of mental health care.

And having easy access to educational programs like the online psych nurse practitioner programs goes to emphasize the need to have more nurses in this important area of health care.

Mental Health 

Emotional, psychological, and social well-being are all part of our mental health. The state of our mental health influences our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

It affects how we respond to stress, interact with people, and make good decisions. At every life stage from infancy and adolescence to adulthood, it is important to be mentally healthy.

Most people only focus on their physical health, but both physical and mental health are important aspects of overall health. For instance, depression raises the danger of developing many different physical health issues, especially chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. In a similar way, having chronic illnesses raises your likelihood of developing mental illness.

A person’s mental health can alter over time based on a variety of circumstances. If a person has challenges that weigh heavily on them, it can harm their mental health. People may for example have poor mental health if they’re working long hours, providing care for a relative, or going through financial difficulties.

It is important to note that mental health isn’t something we can just improve on once and then move on. We must be aware of and treat mental health issues carefully at all stages of life, from childhood to the rest of our lives, just like we are attentive in dealing with physical illnesses as a regular part of life.

The Role of A Psychiatric Nurse

Education in psychiatric nursing has always been part of training and producing nurses for the healthcare sector, and psychiatric nurses have had access to specialized master’s-level training programs since the 1950s. Since then these programs have increased in both quantity and value, and nowadays, there are online psych nurse practitioner programs that any qualified candidate can access.

Based on county-level estimates of the number of patients with mental illnesses, the amount of caregivers who provide mental health care, and the number of counties experiencing a shortage of providers, studies have shown that over 75% of counties in the US have a severe shortage of mental health prescribers for example. The role of the psych nurse will continue to grow as long as there are shortages of mental health physicians in the United States. 

The role of prescribing drugs and offering clinical treatment to patients was added to the scope of practice of psychiatric nurses in the 1980s, and it’s still permitted in all states. Emergency departments, nursing homes, and psychiatric units are just a few of the places where these nurses work. 

The capacity of psych nurses to function as autonomous practitioners is closely tied to the development of their role in treating patients with mental illness. Nursing boards set boundaries for the scope of practice for psych nurses, and according to the state where they practice, these nurses are subject to different clinical and statutory requirements across the 50 states.

psychiatric nurse

Holistic and Multidisciplinary Approach

Nurses receive comprehensive education and training, with opportunities to practice across all areas of healthcare. The ability to collaborate with other disciplines, both inside and outside the traditional health domain is essential to the nursing profession.

More so than many other healthcare professionals, mental health specialists need to work together with experts from other fields such as nutrition, education, social work, psychology, and the justice system.

Nurses also get to interact with informal mental health care providers such as families, as this is beneficial to the delivery of care. Therefore, teamwork and partnerships are important in psychiatric nursing.

In addition, nurses are trained to be holistic, which means they take into account all possible aspects of their patient’s health. This includes the somatic, emotional, mental, and existential. Thanks to this holistic approach, nurses are able to treat and relate to their patients as a human being rather than a person with one specific problem.

Since life is way too complex and there is no one-size-fits-all approach in both mental and physical healthcare, the holistic approach is one of the efficient ways to not overlook anything when helping a patient to improve their state of  health. 

The Problem

The present state of mental healthcare in the US is concerning. There is a lack of personnel in mental health organizations. Mental health services are unavailable or unaffordable for many people. 

As a result of their heavy caseloads and a desire for greater pay and work-life balance, many counselors are abandoning the profession. And that was before the COVID-19 pandemic which has only created more scarcity of healthcare providers and made the crisis in mental health worse.

The need for qualified mental health therapists has increased significantly in recent years as more individuals are recognizing the value of mental health, particularly with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unfortunately, there is a severe lack of these professionals in the United States, and this prevents many people and families from receiving the assistance they require. It is becoming more challenging for people with mental health issues to obtain the care they need as a result of this shortfall which is having an impact on the whole healthcare system.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners – A Potential Solution

When it comes to tackling the lack of mental health professionals, psychiatric nurse practitioners are an important part of the solution. According to a research, there is estimated to be a shortage of 250,000 mental health practitioners by 2025.

There is a particularly great demand in rural areas where 111 million Americans live. For instance, there is a severe lack of psychiatrists and other mental health professionals. Due to the nature of their education and training, psych nurses are able to offer top-notch care.  

Psychiatric nurses are registered nurses before anything, and they possess a high level of clinical competence. They have the capacity to carry out exhaustive, complete assessments, which is a very important function in mental health care.

In order to handle the various mental and physical challenges that patients face, they have mastered problem-solving and critical thinking skills. Mental health nurses are also able to apply evidence-based techniques.

Of course they are trained to have excellent communication skills and are very empathetic, which is very important since they need to listen to patients, families, and the rest of the team. 

Final Thoughts

Across the United States, there’s a severe shortage of mental caregivers. The rapidly growing number of psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners could expand access to behavioral health treatments, but state restrictions on scope of practice may limit the capacity of nurses to deliver such services effectively. Granting nurse practitioners a higher but controlled practice authority could definitely enable them to offer their services better.