Jess Calohan, DNP, PMHNP-BC
Director, Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Program, Frontier Nursing University
Roughly 19 percent of the US population suffers from some sort of mental illness. As I frequently tell graduate nursing students, mental health issues are everywhere. Over the past 10-15 years, mental illness has become less stigmatized and it is more acceptable for individuals to seek help.
The first Mental Health Parity Compliance Act was passed in 1996 and has been revised multiple times over the past 23 years. In 2010, addiction was added and the law became known as the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act. This legislation essentially directed insurers to cover mental health issues in the same way medical issues are covered.
Addressing the shortage
However, even with this legislation, there is a significant shortage of mental health providers across the United States, especially in rural and underserved areas. Even in more populated areas, the wait for psychiatric care can exceed 6 months for new patients and in some cases longer for children and adolescents. In many rural and underserved areas, nurse practitioners have answered the call to care for those in need.
Psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) are advanced practice nurses that specialize in delivering competent, safe, and patient-centric care. PMHNPs are well-equipped to meet the needs of a diverse population by providing comprehensive psychiatric care that includes medication management, psychotherapy, education, and expert consultation. PMHNPs are built for this role as they rely on nursing principles of teamwork, collaboration, and a holistic approach to caring for patients. These principles are taught in undergraduate nursing and cultivated throughout a nurse’s career.
Any registered nurse who is passionate about providing psychiatric and mental health care to patients can pursue a PMHNP as a specialty. In addition, nurse practitioners and nurse-midwives can add the PMHNP specialty certification to their current credentials. By adding a PMHNP specialty, nurse practitioners and nurse-midwives who already serve families can expand their care to include mental health, allowing them to better meet their patients’ needs.
Jacob Mearse, DNP, CNM, PMHNP, is certified as both a nurse-midwife and a psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner and shares, “We practice in an environment where midwifery and psychiatry are inexorably intertwined. Women are much more than just a walking reproductive system. Practicing as both a CNM and PMHNP better enables me to care for the whole person.”
Opportunities for men
Finally, males are underrepresented in the nursing profession. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate against gender, race, or socioeconomic status. Therefore, it is essential that the PMHNP workforce is also diverse to best meet the unique needs of our patients. I would not have had the opportunities for leadership and to have a positive impact on those in rural and underserved areas had I not become a PMHNP. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing someone come out of darkness that is often associated with mental illness and begin their journey to recovery and wellness.