Specialty Spotlight: Psych-Mental Health NP

These nurse practitioners play a key role in expanding access to affordable mental health services

Mental health in America dramatically worsened with the onset of the pandemic. In 2019, about one in 10 adults reported symptoms of anxiety or depression. By 2021, two in five reported symptoms with other negative impacts on mental health, such as increased substance use and worsened chronic conditions from added worry and stress. The surge in mental illness shined a spotlight on the country’s mental health state and the shortage of health care providers trained to offer proper care to those who need it.

While solving such a crisis requires time and resources, there is no question that Psych-Mental Health NPs play a key role in expanding the number of mental health practices throughout the country and providing telehealth services to those who cannot get these services in person. In the U.S., fewer than 5% of the more than 355,000 licensed nurse practitioners are certified in psych-mental health, but more nurses are choosing this specialty, says Lee Tyson, DNP, associate professor of clinical and director of UC’s Psych-Mental Health NP programs.

“We have seen a huge demand for our psych-mental health programs from advanced practice nurses who want to be dually certified. The culmination of bad things happening, coupled with the realization that mental wellness is part of overall wellness, brought psych-mental health nursing to people’s radars,” Tyson says. “Many nurses feel meeting their patients’ emotional needs is already part of their job, so why not learn how to do it in the best way possible?”

For Tyson, nursing is a second career. He has graduate degrees in ministry and theology and worked as a clergyman for more than a decade, but ultimately others would not accept how he reconciled his faith with his sexual orientation. To live authentically and support his husband and three children, Tyson entered UC’s accelerated nursing program, earned his bachelor’s in 2008, master’s in adult primary care in 2010 and doctorate in psych-mental health in 2013. Along with his position at UC, Tyson also serves as owner and CEO of Lee Side Wellness, an outpatient mental health clinic he founded in 2016.

The main difference between Psych-Mental Health NPs, psychiatrists and psychologists is that we are prepared to assess our patients holistically and treat the whole person. We are nurses first, so we look at each patient’s emotional, physical, existential and spiritual needs.

Lee Tyson Director of Psych-Mental Health NP Programs

Psych-Mental Health NPs assess, diagnose and treat the mental health needs of patients. Many provide therapy and prescribe medications for patients who have mental health or substance use disorders and may also provide physical and psychiatric assessments, emergency psychiatric care and treatment effectiveness evaluations. The patient population treated by these providers includes children, adolescents, adults and older adults in settings such as primary care facilities, hospitals, residential care facilities, behavioral health clinics, inpatient treatment facilities and correctional facilities.

“The main difference between Psych-Mental Health NPs, psychiatrists and psychologists is that we are prepared to assess our patients holistically and treat the whole person. We are nurses first, so we look at each patient’s emotional, physical, existential and spiritual needs,” Tyson says. “Patients don’t leave their pre-existing health problems at home when they have a mental health crisis, so Psych-Mental Health NPs need finely tuned, specialized assessment skills to support patients with severe mental illness in efforts toward health.”

Registered nurses who want to work as Psych-Mental Health NPs must earn a graduate degree in the specialty and get licensed by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. UC offers two paths to become a Psych-Mental Health NP — a post-master’s certificate, designed for nurses who already hold a graduate degree, and a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) for bachelor’s-prepared nurses. Both programs prepare students to care for the mental and physical well-being of people with mental health conditions or behavioral problems, but the DNP — the terminal degree in nursing practice — equips nurses to promote evidence-based practice and leverage systems leadership and quality improvement processes to design programs of care delivery that are functional, economically feasible and significantly impact patient outcomes.

“In both programs, faculty feel most accomplished when students are successful. Our faculty — all practicing clinicians who bring real life clinical experiences to the classroom —
understand life happens,” Tyson says. “Our expectations are high, but we are sensitive to the fact that our students have a lot going on in their lives.”

As a better-understood, much-needed, fast-growing specialty that offers plenty of well-paid job opportunities, the Psych-Mental Health NP path has become a popular choice for nurses. But, Tyson says, it’s not for everyone.

“There are plenty of opportunities for jobs, especially for students who graduate from a reputable school like ours. People are attracted to the Psych-Mental Health NP role for many different reasons but, at some point, may realize they are not cut out for it,” Tyson says. “It is not you who chooses to become a Psych-Mental Health NP; rather, it chooses you. It is truly a calling, a specialty you take home with you.”

Featured Image at Top: Lee Tyson, Associate Professor and Director of UC's Psych-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Programs. Photo/Colleen Kelley/UC Creative

More from Psych-Mental Health NP Program Graduates

We asked four of UC's Psych-Mental Health NP program graduates to answer questions about why they chose this specialty, what they enjoy about it, and the challenges they face in their roles.

Additional Contacts

Evelyn Fleider | Director of Marketing | College of Nursing

| 513-5582996

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