What does a mental health nurse do?

Published on 01.06.21

Welcome to our new series where mental health professionals answer your questions.

Last Friday, we launched our Tiny Changes Mental Health Worker Series over on Instagram! A huge Tiny thank you to community mental health nurse James Kennedy for talking about his job, why he became a mental health nurse and sharing some of his advice and expertise by answering your questions. Thanks if you sent us a question via social media for James too! If you missed it, James’ Q&A is saved to our highlights and here it is on the blog too!

Photo of a smiling man with grey hair, wearing a black top on a blue background.

Hi, I'm James.

I’m a community mental health nurse. I’ve worked in mental health for over 36 years and it’s something I absolutely love. It’s a real privilege and I’m really passionate about it. Thanks for the questions you sent in, I’ll try answer them today.

What’s the difference between mental health and mental illness? We all have mental health, it’s a combination of emotional, physical, social, work, financial and community wellbeing connected by our own identity, values and strengths, and mental illness affects disrupts our everyday life affecting different aspects of our wellbeing.

How do you become a mental health nurse? You need to go to University and study for 3 or 4 years depending on the University, however if you don’t have the initial qualifications so can initially access through colleges.

“I want to really help people make a difference to their own lives and better understand mental illness, mental health and wellbeing.”


Does a mental health nurse work in a hospital? No you can work in hospital, care homes, community , GP practices and Prison.

Do you work with people who can’t get better or will always have that illness? I often think we consider mental illness like physical illness and we expect to get well in a certain amount of time, but it does not work like that as we are all unique, and have different things that affect our lives, I look at it as what can I do despite my illness, my illness does not define who I am.

Best ways to support your spouse (or other loved one) suffering from depression? Answer – In simple terms being kind, caring , compassionate and good listener, we don’t always need to provide answers, it’s about holding the persons hope, also understanding that depression can vary day to day especially at the beginning.

Do you receive training on how mental illness can present differently in those with autism? I would say we need more training on Autism, but it is still about working with people as individuals and getting to know them in first instance.

If you were to start from scratch what would you do to create a new mental health strategy for Scotland? I would not necessarily start from scratch, it’s hard to meet everyone’s needs, but definitely more on early intervention and prevention and easier access to help, also would like to see how these strategies are actually put into action and local areas prioritise their needs and see the money!!

How can you support someone through grief? From a personal prospective it is being there for the person, be able to listen and support, but also is they person getting support, as sometimes they need specialist help. Sue Ryder is a really good resource.

How do I continue to gain support when I move to different areas of the country? If its formal support then areas can transfer your care, but you might not get same response. Research what’s in the local community, local supports, and make sure you register with new GP, as lots of services won’t help until you have.

How do you stay mentally well while helping close to you who is mentally unwell? This is really important and a good one to end on. We often neglect ourselves as we care for others, but we need to maintain our own wellbeing by doing things we would normally do, ask yourself what are my wellness tools, what things can I do for myself? Also do I need support or someone to speak to?

For a chance to chat directly to other mental health professionals, like James, head to our instagram, and keep in touch on social media @tinychanges and sign up to our newsletter.

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