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How to become a mental health nurse in Australia

3 March 2022

In Australia, as in many parts of the world, mental health problems are prevalent and appear to be on the rise. Research shows that as many as one in five Australians have a mental health condition, and many require treatment at some time during their lives. For this reason, mental health nurses are a critical part of the workforce and of every patient’s care.

Mental health nursing is a field that requires specialist training. Here is how to become a mental health nurse, the benefits of becoming one, and the job outlook and salary for this important profession.

Steps to become a mental health nurse

Mental health nursing is an important and fulfilling career. Nurses who undertake this specialisation work with a unique set of challenging diseases and disorders, and they also get to make a profound difference to the lives of their patients and the community.

If you’re curious about how to become a mental health nurse in Australia, here’s some information about your pathway toward this career:

Secondary education

The first step to becoming a mental health nurse is to undertake tertiary education. However, in order to qualify for a nursing degree, aspiring mental health nurses do need to meet a number of prerequisites.

These prerequisites include completing their final year of high school (classified as year 12 or equivalent), as well as completing certain subjects and obtaining certain marks in these subjects.

Universities vary on their entry requirements, but aspiring nurses will typically need to score well in English, chemistry, mathematics and physics.

Tertiary education

Tertiary education is essential to becoming a mental health nurse. Furthermore, in many cases, postgraduate study can boost your career opportunities.

An undergraduate foundational course in nursing is critical to becoming a mental health nurse, as mental health nurses still need to be qualified nurses before they specialise. The majority of aspiring mental health nurses will study a Bachelor of Nursing, potentially followed by a Master of Mental Health Nursing. It may also be possible to study a Bachelor of Science as an undergraduate degree, depending on the university. Some bachelor’s degrees may offer a specialisation in mental health nursing, whereas others may require that it be studied at a postgraduate level.

Specialist education

The final step to becoming a mental health nurse is a specialist education that consists of either a formal postgraduate qualification or a number of certificates.

Mental health nurses will also need to complete extensive on-the-job training before they are considered a qualified mental health nurse.

Benefits of being a mental health nurse

Over and above other fields of nursing, there are many benefits to becoming a mental health nurse. These benefits include the following:

1. Greater contact hours

The role of a mental health nurse includes numerous responsibilities, from holistic assessment to developing and delivering a range of complex interventions that are based on developing a respectful therapeutic relationship with consumers. Given their wide remit of skills and the many opportunities mental health nurses have to interact with individuals in their care, it is easy to see why Dr Theresa Shaw, CEO of the UK’s Foundation of Nursing Studies, says these nurses “arguably have the most contact time” with consumers.

2. Relationship-based communication

In her post to the Mental Health Nurses blog, Dr Shaw discussed the great ability and capacity for listening that makes mental health nurses an asset to any modern health care team. Prince Harry’s sharing with the world his struggle with mental health issues following the death of his mother was an opportunity for both normalising mental health issues and highlighting the special role mental health nurses play in listening, said Dr Shaw.

3. You are a generalist and a specialist

Mental health nurses, with their generalist nursing training and specialist mental health training, operate in a rare sweet spot of delivering general health services (like physical health care assessments or emergency medical attention) while being attentive for cues that may provide insight into the mental state of the person they are treating. In her 2017 report, Playing our part: The work of graduate and registered mental health nurses, Shaw says as a true multitasker, a mental health nurse can provide a 360-degree snapshot of the physical and psychological state of a patient. Undertaking CPD in both nursing and mental health treatment makes them a valuable part of any health team and invaluable in speedy diagnosis and treatment.

Mental health nursing salary and job outlook

As with many areas of nursing, there is a shortage of mental health nurses in Australia at the moment. For this reason, it is a great time to enter the profession. Here is the average mental health nurse salary in Australia, as well as the job outlook:

  • Average salary: According to, the median mental health nurse salary in Australia is $97,792.
  • Job outlook: According to Job Outlook, the Australian government’s official job growth website, the future outlook for mental health nurses is very strong, which is the highest growth category.

Start your journey to become a mental health nurse in Australia

Mental health nursing is a specialised branch of nursing that is increasingly in demand and looks likely to continue to grow. Southern Cross University’s online Master of Mental Health Nursing degree has been developed to empower nurses to gain the skills they need to meet this demand. Designed to complement the new National Framework from the Australian College of Mental Health Nurses (ACMHN), the curricula include the following:

  • Holistic focus: Mindfulness of the whole person
  • Safety and wellbeing of recipients and providers
  • Evidence-informed practice
  • Diversity in approaches
  • Collaboration to meet diverse, individualised needs

Add mental health nursing credentials to the long list of skills and qualifications that make you a valuable part of an interdisciplinary health team, and prepare yourself for various roles on the hospital ward or in private practice.

Speak to one of our expert Student Enrolment Advisors today on 1300 863 819 to learn more about the online Master of Mental Health Nursing degree.