What Does a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) Do?

Mental health disorders are surprisingly common. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about half of all Americans will be diagnosed with a condition such as depression, anxiety, or trauma at some point in their life. Such disorders and conditions can endanger physical health while impairing relationships, decision making, and self-confidence.

A psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner counsels a patient.

Fortunately, mental health care is a dedicated focus of qualified patient care providers, including advanced practice nurses. Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners, or PMHNPs, are nurses who receive specialized training in mental health, enabling them to diagnose and treat patients grappling with psychiatric disorders. By obtaining an advanced degree in nursing, it’s possible to play a vital role in caring for people who are battling mental illness.

What Is a PMHNP?

It’s helpful to narrow the definition of a PMHNP’s role. What is a PMHNP, and what role do these nurses play in the mental health field? PMHNPs begin as registered nurses (RNs), then gain additional education and training so they can care for patients who are faced with depression, anxiety, PTSD, addiction, or related challenges.

PMHNP Job Description

The duties and responsibilities of a PMHNP may vary from one practice to the next, but some common roles include:

  • Observing and interviewing patients to diagnose their mental health disorders
  • Designing and implementing treatment plans, including talk therapy or pharmaceutical intervention
  • Referring patients to long-term, inpatient, or specialty care
  • Collaborating with other providers to ensure continuity of care
  • Educating patients and their families about promoting mental health and well-being

What Is a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Scope of Practice?

When discussing any kind of advanced practice nursing role, it’s important to consider the scope of practice. This refers to the level of autonomy and authority granted to advanced practice nurses in a given state.

The psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner scope of practice is determined at the state level, by the respective nursing board. Local boards vary on whether they allow PMHNPs to practice independently or require them to practice under the direction of a physician. In addition, prescriptive powers can vary by state. For example, some states allow advanced practice nurses to prescribe any kind of medication, while others restrict the prescription of controlled substances.

PMHNPs practice in a range of different clinical settings, including private practices, community clinics, addiction care facilities, hospitals, and beyond. The duties and roles of PMHNPs may vary quite a bit based on work environment.

How to Become a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

For nurses or nursing students who wish to specialize in mental health care, it’s important to review the steps on how to become a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner.

Become an RN

The first stepping stone to assuming the role of a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner is to become an RN. This requires earning an undergraduate degree (usually a Bachelor of Science in Nursing) and passing the RN certification exam. Working different clinical shifts to gain direct patient care experience can ultimately be very helpful.

Obtain Additional Education

Advanced practice nurses are distinguished by their high level of training. PMHNPs must earn at least a master’s degree in nursing (MSN), including coursework that concentrates on mental health diagnosis and treatment.


Nurses who wish to work as licensed PMHNPs also need to pass a national nurse practitioner exam, including a specialized certification to administer mental health care.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Salary

People drawn to this role should research typical salaries. According to November 2022 data from the compensation website Payscale, the median annual psychiatric nurse practitioner salary is approximately $113,900. Variables including geographic location, work environment, years of experience, and level of education may affect salary range.

As the demand for mental health services continues to increase, the need for qualified psychiatric health care professionals will continue to rise. This translates to a strong job market for psychiatric nurse practitioners. As of November 2022, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) noted that job opportunities for nurse practitioners are projected to grow by 40% over the next decade. This is much higher than the average for all professions.

Make a Difference in the Lives of Others

Mental health concerns are widespread, and without adequate care, they can become debilitating. Fortunately, experienced clinicians, including psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners, can deliver a full spectrum of resources to improve patients’ mental well-being.

If you are interested in this important profession, learn more by exploring Hawai‘i Pacific University’s online Master of Science in Nursing to Doctor of Nursing Practice program.

Discover how Hawai‘i Pacific University can offer you the valuable opportunity to cultivate your skills for licensure and practice as a PMHNP.

Recommended Readings

Autonomy in Nursing: Why It Matters

Ethical Principles in Health Care

How to Practice Local Travel Nursing


American Association of Nurse Practitioners, State Practice Environment

American Nurses Credentialing Center, Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (Across the Lifespan) Certification (PMHNP-BC)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, About Mental Health

Johnson & Johnson Nursing, Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner at a Glance

Mental Health America, Adult Data 2022

MentalHealth.gov, What Is Mental Health?

News Medical, "Mental Health Nursing"

Payscale, Average Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner (NP) Salary

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