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The Importance of Evidence-Based Practice in Mental Health Nursing

Last Updated:
February 25, 2023
Kay Nicole

The Importance of Evidence-Based Practice in Mental Health Nursing

Evidence-based nursing is important because it is based on the actual clinical expertise, knowledge, and research of nurses and other healthcare staff. This well-rounded approach to healthcare offers nurses a wider view of resources and possible treatment plans when dealing with the needs of mental health patients.

The differences between treating mental health and physical health

Physical health is impacted by mental health. An individual may be in great physical health while suffering from mental health issues. Over time, however, mental health tends to start to affect physical health because mental health symptoms often manifest in neglecting physical care or turning to substances to self-medicate.

There are times when physical health conditions can lead to mental illness or make existing mental issues worse. For example, a patient may start to feel very depressed after an accident or during a recovery. Mental issues such as postpartum depression may start after a baby is born and can be very debilitating. In this case, short-term mental health treatment is needed right away.

Long-term physical disabilities can lead to continued mental health issues, especially if the patient does not have access to a good support network.

Complex disorders require the expertise of evidence-based mental health nursing

The array of possible mental health disorders in various combinations is staggering. It can take some time to gather information from a patient and reach a proper diagnosis.

Substance abuse can make it more difficult to make an accurate diagnosis because many of the signs of drug and alcohol abuse mimic the symptoms of mental disorders. Mental health nurses work with psychiatric professionals to try to determine the underlying issues a patient is experiencing. This is where having significant experience and knowledge really allows a nurse to help patients more effectively and in a shorter period of time.

For example, the opioid epidemic has led many mental health professionals, including mental health nurses, to gain a lot of experience in recognizing the signs of abuse and the mental health issues that often preceded or came after the addiction. It is important to determine which came first. Sometimes addiction is what leads to mental issues because the addict becomes depressed or neurotic as they feel that they have no control over their decisions.

Common evidence-based mental health services and practices

Here is a look at some common evidence-based mental health services and practices.

  • Assertive community treatment

Mental health professionals increasingly see the need to use assertive community treatment practices to address mental health issues. This treatment protocol employs a variety of resources beyond medication and counseling. Patients are often treated on an outpatient basis for disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder.

Mental health nurses may help patients find agencies and resources that can help them manage daily tasks and needs. For example, homelessness and lack of employment are common problems for those suffering from moderate to severe mental illness.

  • Integrated treatments for multiple disorders

An integrated approach is most often used with individuals who have a high risk of relapse and have been diagnosed with both mental health and substance abuse issues. The goal of an integrated approach is to offer the support needed to help individuals find suitable employment, affordable housing, and ongoing support in the form of counseling and mentoring. This is in addition to any required medical treatments and medications to help with behavioral issues.

By providing such a broad framework of support, patients have greater odds of overcoming their substance abuse permanently. In some cases, behavioral and mental health issues may go away as well.

  • Illness management and recovery

Some mental and behavioral issues are quite severe. For example, schizophrenia is a condition that can be congenital but doesn’t manifest itself until an individual is past adolescence. Illness management and recovery techniques teach patients methods for taking control of their mental illness.

This level of active participation in the treatment process involves regular counseling sessions and discussions of life skills that can help patients learn to work around their mental illness and maintain as normal of a life as possible.


Evidence-based mental health services recognize that homelessness often goes hand in hand with mental illness. In the past, treating people for mental disorders often resulted in them being confined to psychiatric facilities. This was often the case even if the individual had a highly treatable condition. Of course, we did not know as much about different mental illnesses and chemical imbalances as we do now. In modern times, facilities to house mental health patients are not used as often as they were in the past, even when people are in need of housing and consistent care. The cost of this type of treatment is high, which means very few people who need in-patient treatment end up receiving it.

As a result, homelessness due to mental health is far more common. The drug epidemic has increased the number of people suffering from multiple disorders and substance abuse. Homelessness leads to a higher risk of violent imprisonment, and it is imperative that housing consistent with a supportive and substance-free living environment is available. Without basic needs being met, it is far less likely that a patient can make a permanent long-term recovery.

Non-evidence based programs

Some alternative therapies are quite effective at helping certain patients make improvements to their lives and stay on a good path. While these are considered non-evidence-based, they should never be entirely discounted. Sometimes, alternative therapies used in conjunction with evidence-based methods lead to the best results.

Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous are great examples of 12-step programs and support groups that are not evidence-based but are very effective at helping some people overcome their addictions. 12-step programs provide people with a mentor who has overcome similar problems, so they are easy to relate to. Having some friends and mentors who you feel can really understand you is very helpful to those who are struggling to permanently change their lives.

Support groups provide a safe place for those who struggle to talk about issues because they fear harsh judgment. Many people find lifelong friends in these groups. 12-step programs are free, so they are a good choice for those who are having trouble finding affordable support services in their area.

Traditional counseling, or “talk therapy”, is more helpful for some people than others. Trained counselors and therapists provide an outlet for those struggling with mental health. For some people, being able to talk about their emotional load from time to time can be incredibly liberating.

The need for mental health nurses is on the rise

Unfortunately, mental health issues are on the rise. Societal problems have led to a steep increase in depression, anxiety and substance abuse.

If you are a healthcare professional who wants to make a career change, mental health nursing may be a good choice. Earning an advanced degree as a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner via an online program is a great way to get the qualifications and skills you need without giving up your regular job. Online PMHNP programs like those found at Marymount University are affordable and allow you to get an advanced degree at a pace that is suited to your lifestyle and other obligations.

What does a psychiatric nurse practitioner do?

As a mental health nurse practitioner, you will perform a wide range of duties. These include:

  • Assessing mental health

You will use your knowledge to make judgments on the mental health status of patients. This can involve a preliminary diagnosis to get a patient started on a better path or stabilizing them if they come to you experiencing a moderate to severe crisis.

  • Create treatment plans

Talking to patients and creating treatment plans that they are comfortable with is a large part of your job as a mental health nurse. Treatment plans may need to be developed and adjusted over time. No mental health professional can fully guarantee that a specific combination of medication and therapies will automatically be the right fit for a patient. It can take time to find the right combination of treatments to help a patient improve their life.

  • Prescribe medications

In modern times, we have a lot of different medications available to help patients suffering from mental health issues. These medications can correct chemical imbalances that cause some mental health issues. Prescribing medications is a very serious responsibility that requires a lot of knowledge.

You will need to know the most commonly prescribed medications for the top mental disorders seen in society. This means understanding their side effects, costs, and most common dosages. Although this information can be looked up, it is extremely helpful to have as much knowledge as possible memorized so you can hone in on what to prescribe faster.

Medication dosages often have to be changed throughout a patient’s treatment. Nurses regularly meet with patients to discuss how they are feeling and to see if medications are working. This is important because even if a medication is a good fit for a patient, it can take some time for patients to see any noticeable improvements.

  • Perform risk assessments

Mental health nurses conduct assessments to see how at risk a patient is because of their disorders. For example, a nurse may note that the patient is at risk for substance abuse, suicide or homelessness. Acknowledging these risks is the first step toward creating a plan to reduce risk factors.

Protecting patients and those around them from harm is important as well. In cases of severe mental illness, there may be concerns that a patient could harm those around them. This is a very serious situation that may involve separating a patient from certain people until they are stabilized. The same is true if a patient is suicidal. Intervention and temporary commitment to a hospital may be required until a patient is deemed stable enough not to be a suicide risk.

Understanding and working to the precise needs of patients

Understanding patients and the best way to offer them a high level of care requires regular research. With experience, it becomes much easier to understand the complexity of mental health issues as well. It is your duty to research and understand whatever mental or substance abuse issues patients are diagnosed with. The better you understand the situation, the more effective your treatment plan will be.

Reading medical journals, networking with other mental health professionals, and being open to new treatment protocols are all critical aspects of being the best mental health nurse possible.

Mental health nurses may work in a variety of settings

A mental health nurse practitioner is not just limited to working in psychiatric units at hospitals. There are many employment options available to qualified nurses. For example, you may work at a community center or residential care facility or even provide care in patients’ homes. In a hospital setting, you may work in an outpatient unit or intensive psychiatric care. Or, you might treat patients dealing with eating disorders.

Adult and juvenile prisons and detention centers are also options for mental health nurses who want to specialize in working with a specific segment of the population. Some specializations, such as working in prisons, might be more emotionally challenging than others.


Evidence-based mental healthcare is important to help those suffering from mental health issues to find a better path. While some mental health disorders can be cured, others are more complex and have their basis in genetic factors. This means that patients must learn how to live with their mental illnesses and prevent them from controlling their lives.

Becoming a mental health nurse offers a lot of opportunities to help others while advancing your career. Over the next decade, the demand for mental health services will continue to rise. Now is a great time to get started in the field.

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