Few areas of healthcare provide such continually interesting and challenging work as psychopathology nursing. Building your career in this area gives you the chance to take a deep dive into some truly fascinating subjects while helping some of the most vulnerable members of society.
There are lots of different contexts in which you can practice, from hospitals to daycare centers to visiting patients in the community, and your dedicated work can turn lives around. You can help some patients recover altogether and assist others in taking more control over their lives despite their illness. You can support kinship carers and help heal rifts within families. You can enable people with terminal conditions to get much more out of life in the moment, and you can help those cast off by society learn to value themselves again. It’s a tremendously valuable role, and it’s in increasing design.
A number of factors are contributing to the increased demand for mental health nurses. One is that the population is, overall, getting older, and people are living longer lives, so there are higher per capita rates of neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease. Covid-19 has been shown to cause moderate brain tissue damage as well as accelerated losses to brain areas that decipher sense (smell, taste, touch, sight, and feel) so many people need help to recover or cope with sudden impairment. Climate change has been linked to an increase in anxiety and depression, especially among young people.
In addition to these factors, we’re getting better at diagnosing numerous disorders, so people who previously went untreated can now get that little bit of extra help they need to live much more fulfilling lives.
Anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorders
Anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorders make up the vast majority of cases of mental illness in the U.S. today, but just because they’re commonplace doesn’t mean that they can be taken lightly. They are a leading cause of suicidal ideation and can also make it difficult for people to function in their day-to-day lives.
Anxiety can make it hard to deal with others or even leave the house. Depression can make it difficult to find the will necessary for basic self-care, never mind trying to hold down a job. Bipolar disorders often lead to damaged relationships and can create financial vulnerabilities. Psychopathology nurses help those afflicted to manage their conditions as best they can, ensuring they can take medication as prescribed and providing counseling.
As of 2023, a study shows that around 30 million people in the U.S. suffer from eating disorders, which are associated with high levels of mortality. Helping patients battle these illnesses requires intensive monitoring and support in hospitals, specialist clinics and rehab facilities, and in their homes. It’s an area in which good mental health nursing makes an enormous difference to the chances of survival.
Even after recovering from an acute illness, around two-thirds of patients experience lasting problems and are at risk of relapse if triggered by negative life events or other illnesses. Specialist nurses often work alongside other medical teams to reduce this risk. They also play an important role in building up patients’ confidence and a sense of control over their lives, which reduces risk.
Although the percentage of older Americans with dementia has actually decreased in recent years (for reasons that no one has yet been able to pinpoint), the fact that there are more older Americans in total means that there is still a large number of people affected—over 6.5 million. Add to this the number of people with other neurodegenerative disorders, including those that develop in the prime of life, and it’s clear that the need for specialist support is considerable.
Many of the more severely affected people do not have relatives who can take care of them or have reached the point where their families no longer feel able to cope. Skilled nurses, however, can engage with the parts of their minds that are still functional and help them find joy and companionship in their final years.
Brain injuries and tumors
Brain injuries caused by accidents or malice and tumors that put pressure on the brain from within can cause problems at any stage in life, though the risks increase with age. The most common form of injury is stroke, from which about a third of people die, a third recover completely, and another third need significant ongoing care.
These various types of damage are unpredictable and difficult to manage, as our knowledge of the brain is still quite limited and individual brains vary a surprising amount in their anatomy. It means that doctors can only do so much, and it’s often down to nurses, who can spend more time with individual patients to identify symptoms, help with diagnoses, and direct the process of rehabilitation. Where the problem keeps getting worse, they also teach practical and emotional coping techniques.
Responses to trauma
Not every kind of trauma has an obvious physical cause. We now know that exposure to severe emotional shock, distress, or prolonged fear can affect the development of children’s brains and cause physical damage in adults’ brains, especially in the prefrontal cortex, amygdala, and hippocampus. Though no physical action can be taken to repair this, drugs are helpful in some cases, and recovery is possible.
Nurses perform a key role in building confidence, creating a feeling of safety within healthcare environments, and aiding in the management of symptoms such as headaches, nightmares, and panic attacks. In some cases, they also provide counseling and teach the various techniques that patients can use to cope more effectively on their own.
Addictions can be very damaging, whether or not they involve ingesting a toxic substance or risk plunging people into poverty. They’re also quite difficult to recover from without support.
Psychopathology nurses play a critical role in working with patients to help them acknowledge their addictions and recognize them as problematic. They also provide ongoing support to those trying to quit and those who have successfully done so but are worried about relapsing (which, with many substances, is a lifelong issue). In addition to this, they advocate for addicts who need other forms of healthcare, ensuring that they don’t end up in situations where their medication could trigger relapse or react dangerously with a substance that they might not be able to resist.
Compared to the above, obsessive-compulsive disorders may not sound like a big deal, but in fact they can be seriously debilitating, and they often lead to the development of additional mental illnesses if left untreated.
What counts as a psychiatric disorder is determined in part by how it interferes with normal functioning, and people with this type of disorder often find it very difficult to complete ordinary day-to-day tasks or require a lot of extra time to do so. They may also feel unable to cope with other people taking on those tasks for them. Employment and social interaction can also be affected.
Psychopathology nurses help by teaching coping techniques, providing counseling, and building up patients’ confidence in their ability to cope with altered circumstances.
Psychotic disorders like schizophrenia, delusional disorder, and paraphrenia make day-to-day life very difficult because they interfere with perception, so those affected struggle to understand and engage with their surroundings fully. It can be very distressing, especially when accompanied by hallucinations. The intense stigma around these disorders can also make it difficult to build and maintain social relationships, find and hold onto employment, or even access medical treatment for other conditions.
Severe cases often make it necessary to live in a specialist facility with full-time support, but regardless of the environment, nurses help sufferers ease their worries and help them to be as independent as possible. They also advocate on their behalf.
Helping the whole family
Working in the field of psychopathology involves recognizing that illnesses like the ones mentioned above affect not only the patients but also the people around them.
If you are interested in helping people recover from illnesses, studying for a Master of Science in Nursing – Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) online at Spring Arbor University will allow you to learn negotiation and counseling techniques designed to repair family rifts, improve communication between patients and their loved ones, and support hard-working kinship carers. With PMHNP job growth projections among the highest in any area of nursing, there has never been a better time to undertake this kind of study.
Whether you become a dedicated psychopathology nurse or decide to merge your specialties and help mentally ill patients who need to access other types of healthcare, you will be performing an invaluable role.
In light of what is happening to the job market, newly qualified psychopathology nurses now enjoy a wide range of options when it comes to choosing their subsequent career paths. Your studies will help you find your passion and decide where you most want to apply your talents. No matter which choice you make, you’ll have the power to make a massive positive difference in people’s lives in this intimate and intensely rewarding nursing field.