mental health nursing vs general nursing programs

Mental Health Nursing vs. General Nursing: Which is Right for You?

Nursing is one of the most in-demand fields in today’s world. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment growth rate for registered nurses (RNs) will be six percent by 2032, faster than the average for all occupations, while employment for nurse practitioners will increase an incredible 45 percent over the decade. The opportunities for a successful nursing career are abound.

Plus, the nursing field allows candidates to pursue their passions through several specializations and concentrations. For example, one can pursue a career as a general nurse practitioner, family nurse practitioner (FNP), or psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) with an advanced degree.

Thus, many aspiring nurses wonder which career path is right for them. Perhaps that is why you are here. You may be seeking to advance your nursing career, but hope to make an informed decision when choosing between mental health nursing versus general nursing.

This article will help students understand nursing career options by examining mental health nursing and general nursing fields, possible career paths, educational requirements, and steps to pursuing these rewarding careers.

What is Mental Health Nursing?

Specializing in mental health nursing means you are responsible for providing mental health care to patients of all ages and population sizes, including children, adults, families, and communities.

Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who assess and treat patients with psychiatric and mental health disorders. As such, these nurses must hold a specialized master’s degree and obtain licensure to practice in hospitals, wards, prisons, and other healthcare facilities.

Mental health nurses positively impact and improve the lives of their patients and communities by focusing on holistic approaches to teach patients how to make healthy choices for their overall well-being.

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

Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) guide patients through their mental health healing journey by making diagnoses, advocating for patients, administering and evaluating treatment plans, and prescribing medication.

Mental health nurse practitioners will start by evaluating a patient’s medical history, personal history, and symptom analysis to identify family dysfunction, genetic red flags, trauma, or developmental issues. They then use that information to make a diagnosis and treatment plan for their patients.

Treatment plans include therapy and counseling, prescribing medication, and working with other healthcare professionals the patient is seeing to create a personal, hands-on, effective treatment plan.

A psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) is responsible for diagnosing and treating a variety of mental health issues, such as:

  • Drug and alcohol addiction and addiction relapses
  • Sleep disruption and disorders
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Burnout
  • Eating disorders
  • Mood disorders
  • Psychotic disorders

How Do You Become a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner?

It’s true that the demand for qualified and specialized mental health care professionals is greater than ever. While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not report specifically on this field, they note that employment for all nurse practitioners is projected to grow 45 percent percent by 2032, much faster than the average for all occupations.

This job security, a median annual wage of $121,610, and knowing you are making a positive impact on the lives of others leads many nursing candidates to specialize in mental health nursing.

First and foremost, mental health nursing candidates need to complete an Associate degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor’s degree in Nursing (BSN) and earn their registered nurse (RN) licensure by passing the National Council Licensure Examination-Registered Nurse (NCLEX-RN) exam.

After completing both requirements and gaining experience in the field, candidates are ready to pursue an advanced degree through a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) program. These programs provide students with the skills, resources, knowledge, and experience needed to advance their careers and advocate for patients struggling with their mental health.

While programs vary, standard PMHNP courses include:

  • Pathophysiology for Advanced Nursing Practice
  • Neuropsychopharmacology
  • Policy, Politics, and Organization of Healthcare
  • Assessment, Diagnosis, and Treatment of Mental Health Disorders


Ready to take the next step toward a rewarding career as a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner? Download our APRN-PMHNP Get Started Guide to learn more about our flexible class format, curriculum, and more! 


Upon graduating from an advanced practice registered nurse psychiatric mental health nursing practitioner (APRN-PMHNP) degree program, candidates earn their certification in psychiatric nursing from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) before officially finding employment.

Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners work in acute or urgent care centers, correctional facilities, hospitals, long-term care facilities, private clinics, and more.

What is General Nursing?

Working as a general nurse means you are a licensed nursing professional, often referred to as a registered nurse (RN), who provides and coordinates patient care.

Like psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs), registered nurses (RNs) can work with all types of patients, from infants to the elderly, and work to educate patients and their families on proper health care.

Unlike mental health nurses, however, registered nurses help patients and their families suffering from various illnesses, injuries, or disabilities, not only mental health issues.

What Does a General Nurse Do?

Registered nurses (RNs) are the primary caregivers for medical patients as they coordinate, manage, and provide clinical and at-home patient care in various healthcare environments and locations.

Typical job responsibilities and duties include:

  • Recording a patient’s medical history, symptoms, and observations
  • Collecting samples and administering medicines and treatments
  • Preparing patients for clinical exams
  • Educating patients and their families on treatment and care

Most registered nurses will work alongside physicians and other healthcare specialists in hospitals, physicians’ offices, home healthcare services, nursing care facilities, outpatient facilities, and schools.

How Do You Become a Registered Nurse?

An Associate degree in Nursing (ADN) is the standard for those interested in a career as a registered nurse and wanting to do so quickly, as this degree typically takes two to three years to complete.

However, many students and employers prefer candidates to earn their Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing (BSN). While Bachelor’s in Nursing programs are longer, typically taking four years to complete, they offer the opportunity to learn advanced skill sets, and students are more qualified for leadership roles, leading to much higher salaries. Some RNs will go on to complete a master’s degree and become general nurse practitioners.

Nursing students can expect their nursing program to combine classroom instruction with clinical experiences to build the foundation for a successful and rewarding nursing career.

All registered nurses in the United States, like mental health nurses, must be licensed in the state they wish to work in, meaning they must take and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). Upon passing their licensing exam, candidates will officially be licensed as a registered nurses and can apply for jobs and practice as an RN.

Mental Health Nursing vs. General Nursing: Which Degree Should I Choose?

Deciding between a career as a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) or a general registered nurse (RN) will ultimately depend on your interests, passions, and goals.

If you want to specialize in mental health and want to pursue an advanced degree and title, then enrolling in a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) program would be a great choice.

However, if you want to keep your options open, work with patients dealing with various illnesses or injuries, and start your career as soon as possible, an Associate or Bachelor’s degree in Nursing is best for you.

Luckily, no matter your path, Goodwin University is here to help you get through college and into a great career. Contact us today to learn about our flexible on-campus and online programs and our financial aid options available.

Take the next step toward your future today!