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How to Become a Mental Health Nurse in Australia

Discover the steps to become a Mental Health Nurse in Australia. We'll explain what qualifications you need as well as the career opportunities available in this field.

Female medical staff member with girl patient

A Mental Health Nurse is a specialised healthcare professional who provides care and support to individuals experiencing psychological issues. They work in a variety of medical and welfare settings to promote recovery and wellbeing.

Technically, any qualified nurse who is working in this field may be able to call themselves a mental health nurse. The job title is not protected or defined in an official way. However, in Australia, there are three main types of MHNs we normally think of:

Whatever your background in nursing, we'll go through the steps to be recognised as a specialist and access job opportunities.

Qualifications Required

The education qualifications you need to become a mental health nurse in Australia vary by work level. Before you can specialise, you need to qualify to be a nurse, whether that's earning a diploma to be an enrolled nurse, or a bachelor degree to be a registered nurse.

Table 1. Qualifications to be a MHN in Australia

Nurse type Minimum qualifications
Credentialed Mental Health Nurse Bachelor of Nursing
Graduate Diploma of Mental Health Nursing
Enrolled Nurse (Mental Health) Diploma of Nursing
Advanced Diploma of Nursing (Mental Health)
Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Bachelor of Nursing
Graduate Certificate in Mental Health Nursing
Master of Nurse Practitioner (Mental Health)

Note: These are the minimum qualifications needed. Upgrades may be preferred in some cases for career purposes, such as from a grad cert to a grad dip, or from a grad dip to a masters.

While any nurse in this field can call themselves a mental health nurse, specialist qualifications matter. An enrolled nurse may need an Advanced Diploma of Nursing (Mental Health) to be considered a specialist. Registered nurses must do postgraduate study to be recognised as credentialed or a practitioner.

Pathway to mental health nursing

The pathway to mental health nursing is fairly straightforward: (a) become a nurse; (b) gain initial experience in a psychiatric or other setting where you work with mentally ill patients; and (c) study mental health nursing to obtain specialist qualifications and expand your job opportunities.

Related: Top 5 Nursing Mental Health Courses in Australia

Credentialed Mental Health Nurse

Nurse or manager with a white jacket containing a nursing symbol

A Credentialed Mental Health Nurse (CMHN) is a registered nurse with specialist experience and education. They are credentialed by the Australian College of Mental Health Nurses and provide care and treatment to patients with psychological issues.

Step 1: Get a bachelor's degree in nursing

The first step to become a CMHN is to obtain a Bachelor of Nursing, a three-year university degree that prepares you to become a nurse. During this program, you will learn about the fundamentals of nursing, including anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and patient care.

Step 2: Become a registered nurse

After completing the Bachelor of Nursing, the next step is to become a registered nurse (RN) by applying for registration with the Nursing and Midwifery Board.

Step 3: Gain relevant nursing experience

The third step is to gain relevant nursing experience. As an RN, you can start working in mental health, for example, in a psychiatric unit or supporting professional therapists. Experience is essential for further study and gaining professional accreditation.

Step 4: Do an accredited postgraduate course

The fourth step is to do an accredited postgraduate course. You need to complete a graduate diploma or master's degree in mental health nursing. The courses are typically eight to twelve subjects long and available online for part-time study. Students should have access to mental health practice.

Step 5: Apply to the ACMHN

Finally, you can apply to the Australian College of Mental Health Nurses (ACMHN) to become a CMHN. To be eligible for this credential, applicants must have worked in mental health for at least 12 months since gaining their postgraduate qualification or have 3+ years of prior experience.

Enrolled Nurse (Mental Health)

Medical professionals checking heartbeat of hospitalised patient

Just two or three steps are required to become an Enrolled Nurse (Mental Health). Job duties may include administering medication, monitoring vital signs, providing counselling, and helping to develop and implement care plans. Typically, EN's work under the supervision of a registered nurse or other healthcare professionals.

Step 1. Get a Diploma of Nursing

The first step is to obtain an 18-24 month Diploma of Nursing, which is offered by TAFEs and colleges. Students learn to provide safe and effective patient care as an enrolled nurse.

Step 2. Apply to be an enrolled nurse

The next step is to apply to practise as an enrolled nurse with the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia. To be eligible, you must have completed an approved program of study and meet other requirements and background checks. Following approval, you are able to work as an enrolled nurse in mental health settings.

Related: How to Become an Enrolled Nurse (EN)

Step 3 (Optional): Get an Advanced Diploma of Nursing

You may choose to continue your education with an Advanced Diploma of Nursing (Mental Health). The advanced diploma is a higher-level qualification that allows you to specialise in fields such as Mental Health. The normal duration of this course is about 6-7 months.

Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

Female healthcare professional with hand on shoulder of client

A Mental Health Nurse Practitioner is a specially trained nurse with advanced skills and knowledge in psychiatry and healthcare. They are educated at a master's level and can perform advanced health assessments, order diagnostic tests, prescribe medications, provide psychotherapy, and refer patients. NPs are the highest paid type of nurse in Australia.

Here are the steps to become one:

  1. Obtain general registration as a Division 1 Registered Nurse.
  2. Earn at least a Graduate Certificate in Mental Health Nursing, although a Graduate Diploma may be preferred.
  3. Gain equivalent full-time experience of at least three years (5,000 hours) at an advanced clinical nursing level of practice.
  4. Complete an NMBA-approved Nurse Practitioner Masters course with a mental health specialisation.*
  5. Apply for endorsement as a Nurse Practitioner through the NMBA. Once endorsed, you will have expanded responsibilities and scope of practice.

* We recommend that you check the most recent application for endorsement form, accompanying documentation, and NMBA lists of approved courses before enrolling.

Job Opportunities

As a qualified MHN in Australia, you are positioned for strong and stable career with a good salary. There are ample job opportunities.

MHNs are in high demand due to factors such as an ageing population, improving standards of care, and rising numbers of people reporting a mental health condition. The current employment of registered nurses working in mental health is around 14,100 RNs, a number projected to grow.

As of 18 April 2023, the average base salary for a registered MHN was estimated to be $90,566, which is approximately 10% more than what RNs earn in general. Nurse salary payscales reflect experience but also qualification for specialised roles such as clinical nurse.

MHNs work in roles such as direct care nurses, case managers, educators, and clinical consultants. They may also specialise in a particular subfield, such as child and adolescent psychology, addiction, or trauma. They work in hospitals, clinics, schools, correctional facilities, and community health centres.