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Mental health

Mental health refers to the person’s cognitive and emotional wellbeing, i.e. how they think, feel and behave. Approximately one in four people in the United Kingdom will have a mental health problem during their lives. 

Poor mental health can affect day to day functioning, relationships, physical health, and the ability to enjoy life.

All nurses have a responsibility to promote good mental health in order to prevent problems and to support patients who may have a mental illness. Mental health nurses work in a variety of settings and support and treat people who have been diagnosed with a mental illness.

Just like in physical health, nurses can promote mental health by building good relationships with patients, encouraging healthy behaviours, and recognising and treating symptoms early. Again, as in physical health, there are many mental illnesses which need specialised treatment, these include:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • psychosis (such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder)
  • eating disorder
  • personality disorder
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • post-traumatic stress disorder
  • addiction
  • perinatal mental health.

Some of these illnesses are life-long and the person needs education, treatment and guidance to manage the condition. Each individual will be affected differently, therefore their care needs to be tailored to meet their needs.

People with mental health problems do not always get the help they need. Often symptoms are not recognised and services have suffered from a lack of funding. Though improving, there is still stigma about having a mental illness. The Royal College of Nursing is continually working in a variety of ways to tackle these issues.

What is mental health nursing?

Luke Woodhouse, student nurse and member of The Student Nurse Project discusses 'What is mental health nursing?'

Find out more about The Student Nursing Project.

Related to understanding mental health:

Professional lead for understanding mental health:

UK Mental Health Nurse Expert Advisory Group

The purpose of this group is to: 

  • influence Mental Health policy and practice development, embracing it in its wider sense across all organisations; connecting UK wide 4 Countries; representing the voice of mental health nurses
  • influence, inform and drive policy, new ideas and use best outcomes to raise Mental Health Nursing profile 
  • respond to National and Local activities in relation to Mental Health in a timely manner and work with RCN Forums and MHN professional networks.
Find out more about the group's Terms of Reference, the Expert Advisory Roles and Responsibilities and activities. See: Mental Health Expert Group minutes.