Nurses are the biggest professional group working in all levels of the health service system. General shortages of nursing staff, and especially in mental health services, raise serious concerns. How can nursing professionals be offered a vision for the future which will retain their expertise to support patients’ well-being and mental health? Education that offers career development, such as advanced practice mental health nurse education, is one such example.
Supporting nurses in reaching their full professional potential through education programs fits perfectly with this year’s theme for International Nurses Day: “Our Nurses. Our Future.” And for advanced practice mental health nursing education, also “Our Mental Health.”
What is the role of nurses and nursing in caring for well-being and mental health? The theme for this year’s International Nurses Day (IND) is “Our Nurses. Our Future.” How can mental health be promoted by supporting nurses’ future and career development?
During our lifetime we all face challenging periods which affect our well-being and mental health in diverse ways. And it is not only us as individuals, but also our families and communities are affected by these challenges. Support and help we receive from these networks are often sufficient, yet not always available or enough, which leads to help-seeking in the formal health care system.
In many European countries the health care system is built as a stepwise continuity from primary to specialized services. Early support and care are essential in mental health challenges to prevent and minimize stigmatization, human suffering, and costs of care. Therefore, professionals working in primary health care—the first level of health care system—have an important role in providing mental health care according to the capabilities and competences they have. High-quality specialized services should be available, if the care provided at the primary level is not sufficient.
Nurses are the biggest professional group working in all the different levels of the service system. Their role in promotive and preventive actions as well as in care and rehabilitation is crucial. Nurse shortages pose a serious threat to the system’s ability to deal specifically with mental health challenges.
The value of nurses is not contested, and yet recent global hardships—including climate change, Covid-19 pandemic, war in Europe, and economic uncertainty—have magnified their importance, especially with mental health challenges. But many nurses are intending to leave or have already left the profession. The current shortage of nurses and other professionals in mental health services has already raised serious concerns, especially as mental health is not always the most popular field in health care.
Providing nurses with visions for the future and promising career possibilities is one way to encourage nurses to stay in the profession. It aligns with the theme of the 2023 IND, “Our Nurses. Our Future,” in that it recognizes the importance of supporting and promoting nurses for their and our future, for instance by ensuring that nurses are able to reach their full professional potential. Master’s degree education for mental health nurses, leading to advanced practice mental health nurse (APMHN) roles in practice, is such a career path option. This education option is already available in several European countries, and others are in the process of developing such programs.
To support this development of advanced practice mental health nurse education as well as the development of the mental health service systems, the first European book on the topic was published in 2022, titled Advanced Practice in Mental Health Nursing – A European Perspective.
The book was written by academics and nurse practitioners, and maps the landscape of advanced practice in mental health nursing in Europe. It addresses the leadership, education, and advocacy roles of nurses.
It is time for advanced level mental health nurses to step forward as experts and leaders in shaping our mental health systems for a better future. A better future for nurses, and a better mental health future for all.
Principal Lecturer, psychotherapist, PhD, FFNMRCSI
President, European Psychiatric Nurses (Horatio)
School of Social Services and Health Care
Tampere University of Applied Sciences