Mental Health

11 Traits of Mental Health Nurses

Mental health nursing is a wonderfully rewarding career for those who have the right qualifications, but it is a vocation where soft skills play a huge part too, and these aren’t as easy to learn in the classroom or on the job.  Here are 11 traits of mental health nurses. 


When people think of the traits nurses have, compassion is usually at the top of the list, but what does that really mean? A mental health nurse needs to have sympathy and a genuine desire to help and be kind to patients and their families.  It may be that this will make a huge difference to the wellbeing and recovery of a mentally ill patient and compassion is something they are likely to remember for a long time.  If their illness means that they have to make repeated visits to the hospital, knowing that they will have compassionate nurses will make the thought of another trip to the hospital a lot more bearable. 


It is important for a mental health nurse to be non-judgmental, and this is not something everyone finds easy, as judgment is often a way that people make sense of the world around them and decide what path to take. Judgment can be useful when making career decisions or taking a view on how to stay safe, but there is no place for it when it comes to dealing with mentally ill patients.  Some mentally ill people have not always been as kind as they could be to those around them, and they can present challenging behavior.  A mental health nurse needs to be able to separate a patient from their past and their behavior and do the best job they can in helping them to recover.


Nursing is more than just a job, it is a vocation, and this is especially true in the mental health sector.  Without dedication, a mental health nurse wouldn’t be able to cope with the pressures and expectations that come with the job.  Dedication to their patients and the desire to help them get better is one trait that all good mental health nurses have in common. 

Listening Skills

Listening is an important skill for a mental health nurse to have.  Many patients want to be listened to and haven’t had the opportunity to talk or open up to others for a long time.  Active listening is something that patients really need to help them recover, so the nurse who can sit down with them and listen rather than be too busy for them and only half hear them or interject with anecdotes about themselves are not going to make great mental health nurses.  Listening skills are one of the most important things people can have in their career regardless of whether they are mental health nurses, salespeople, or teachers, and it is a good skill to learn and use in the workplace. 

Communication Skills

Although listening is the most important communication skill, there are other forms of communication that they need to be able to use too.  The ability to speak to their patients appropriately is crucial to their role.  Some patients will need a kind and understanding tone while others will respond better to a more assertive one, and mental health nurses must know how to speak to their patients individually for the best results. 

A mental health nurse may also find themselves using medical jargon with a consultant and then trying to relay this information to a patient and their families clearly and in a way that they can be understood and not be confusing.  This can be a difficult skill to learn as it means they need to know when to be technical and how to translate that information into layman’s terms only a few minutes later.  They often find that this skill comes with experience. 

Emotional Intelligence

Sometimes, what a mentally ill patient is not saying is more important than what they are saying, and a mental health nurse needs to pick up on this.  This can be done by observing the body language and intonation of the patient or listening to the whole of the conversation, including the part that others might see as just being a throwaway comment.  Reading all the signs will tell the nurse a lot more than just listening to their words, this will give them a much better understanding of their patient and how to help them.  These skills can be learned on the job and often, an experienced mental health nurse will be a lot more able to read these signs than a nurse who is just starting out in their career.  However, a natural inclination to emotional intelligence can be a great help to a mental health nurse throughout their time in the sector. 

Critical Thinking

Not all patients are alike, and just because they are displaying the same types of symptoms, or they have been diagnosed with the same illness, this doesn’t mean that they should all be treated in the same way.  What works well for one patient doesn’t necessarily work for another, and a mental health nurse needs to recognize this and be able to treat all their patients in a way that is right for the individual rather than trying to use a blanket approach.  The ability to think outside the box is also necessary sometimes. 

Desire To Learn

A mental health nurse is an important person in the community, and in healthcare as a whole. However, nurses need to study for additional qualifications before they can work in a mental health facility.  Quite often they have trained as medical nurses and then decided to specialize. Then there are those mental health nurses that want to specialize further in specific problems such as eating disorders or addiction problems.  This will involve studying.  Mental health nursing requires a lot of on-the-job training, and it is common for more experienced nurses to train newcomers to the profession.  A mental health nurse who wants to climb the promotion ladder will also need to study and get qualifications to make them suitable for their new role. A mental health nurse needs to have a desire to learn and study on an ongoing basis to become very good at their job, and this is a trait that they all have. 

Ability to Stay Calm in A Crisis

A mental health nurse must be able to stay calm in a crisis.  Sometimes patients present challenging behavior, and a nurse needs to be able to calm a situation down before it gets out of hand, as the patient could become a danger to themselves or others.  A nurse who panics is going to make the situation worse. A nurse who can stay calm in any situation is going to be able to perform their job well.  All mental health nurses need to have this trait, but it is not something they necessarily know they have before they go into the job. 

Ability To Cope with Stress

Being a mental health nurse is a stressful job, as there are lots of patients to take care of colleagues to liaise with and jobs to be done on the ward.  The ability to manage stress well is going to be the difference between the nurse who spends their entire career in the mental health sector and the nurse who quits at the end of their first week.  Mental health nurses cope with stress in different ways.  Some have a close-knit support group of friends and family outside work who they can offload to when they need to, others take up yoga or meditation to help them deal with stress or go to the gym when they are feeling overwhelmed. A mental health nurse must keep themselves fit and healthy so that they can deal with their patients and all of them have had training in the importance of diet and exercise. 


The world of a mental health nurse is always changing, and they need to be able to bend with these changes to survive in their careers.  Patient priorities can change without notice as they often need different things or become more ill or recover in the blink of an eye.  Patient turnover can be high as new patients are admitted to wards and others become well enough to go home.  Consultants and senior staff do not always have the same priorities as mental health nurses and they need to be flexible to accommodate this. The ability to be flexible and prioritize their responsibilities is an important trait that mental health nurses have to learn as they go along to cope with the job. 

These are the main traits that mental health nurses have.  Some of them are learned on the job but others are a natural instinct, and these traits are what attracted them to the job in the first place.  Mental health nursing is a complex profession, and it is not for the faint-hearted, but these traits have helped to make them good at the vocation they have chosen.






by Harness Editor

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