Where have all the Psych Nurses Gone?



As we begin to enter the holiday months of 2015, the mental health market continues to BOOM with activity and opportunity!!  On the opposite side of the spectrum, the growing shortage of Psychiatric Nurses and Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners also continues to grow.  Budget constraints, increasing job competition, and the impending “silver tsunami” (the aging baby-boomer population of the workforce currently entering retirement) have been cited as the culprits contributing to this emerging crisis.

While the public continues to rate nursing as the top profession on honesty and ethics, according to a Gallup survey, and they rely on them to provide constant care.  However, what they may not understand is how the role of nursing is changing along with the healthcare landscape, particularly within mental health.  Nurses are adapting to meet patients wherever they seek care, far beyond the hospital.  They are in homes, long-term care facilities, retail drug stores and community settings.

So what do we do when we need more mental health professionals but there is only a shortage to be found?

Here are my Top 3 Suggestions:

  • The ‘great divide’ between physical and mental health care is closing.  (Thank goodness!)  More and more these days, we are seeing Primary Care/Family practices offering mental health resources to their patients, in-house.  This is a growing trend that needs to continue.  Addressing both the physical and the mental, addresses the whole health of the body.  This perspective also puts the emphasis on prevention and overall wellness.

68% of adults with a mental illness have one or more chronic physical conditions.*

  • Technology needs to become an integral part of mental health.  While historically somewhat adverse to accepting new technology, technology reaches all generations and really speaks to the growing Generation Z (under 20 somethings) patient population.  There are many solutions with the potential to better facilitate patient and doctor communication, as well as, allows for closer coordination between Primary Doctors, Nurses and pharmacies.  There are also apps focused on assessing signs and symptoms of illness and risk, in addition to assessing response.  Yes, there’s an app for that!


  • Reserve Specialists (like Psychiatric Nurses) for complex, more high-needs patients. Psychiatrists are freed up to do complex care when common and treatable mental disorders are detected and managed in primary care. Psychiatric services also can be delivered virtually, by phone or Skype, to general medical practitioners to enable them to better serve people with mental disorders. The psychiatric professional may reside anywhere, thus also helping to close geographic divides.


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*Source- SAMHSA-HRSA Center for Integrated Health Solutions