Navigating Psychiatric Challenges: 5 Expert Insights for Nurses

Psychiatric care poses unique challenges. We present five expert insights designed to help psychiatric nurses navigate these challenges

Psychiatric Nurse Concept
Image by drobotdean on Freepik

Psychiatric care is dedicated to the diagnosis, treatment, and even prevention of mental disorders. Nurses play an important role in this. However, the psychiatric nursing field has some unique challenges.

This is nothing to be feared. Each challenge is an opportunity for progress in the field of mental healthcare. It’s through facing them head-on, that psychiatric care will continue to be relevant and meaningful. Start navigating these psychiatric challenges with our 5 expert insights for nurses.

The Role of Nurses in Psychiatric Care

While the role of nurses in psychiatric care has evolved, so too has their contribution to assessment, treatment, and recovery. Many nurses now work privately, offering in-home care to people struggling with mental health issues.

Whether they are employed in the public or private sector, in a hospital or a residential setting, one thing is certain. They can only offer truly comprehensive psychiatric care when collaborating with other health professionals.

As the role of the psychiatric nurse continues to broaden, so too will the need for communication with other health experts. And thanks to the modern understanding of how mental, emotional, and physical health go hand-in-hand, we’ll see more interdisciplinary treatment and care through evidence-based practice nursing.

Understanding Psychiatric Challenges

Hundreds of millions of people worldwide struggle with one or other type of mental health or substance abuse disorder. An astonishing 3.6% of the world’s population suffers from depression. Nearly 50 million people in the United States alone report experiencing mental health issues.

It’s statistics like these that highlight the need for psychiatric care, yet it poses a challenge for psychiatric doctors and nurses. As society continues its never-ending quest for technological progress, the stresses of modern living continue unabated. Indeed, in this cyber age, everyone is constantly exposed to it online.

Social and political upheavals in life affect everyone, manifesting in anxiety disorders and other mental health issues as well as psychosomatic health problems and substance abuse. To meet the challenge of modern psychiatric healthcare, nurses must understand the community’s unique challenges.

This will help them address mental health issues with treatments tailored to a patient’s specific needs.

The Importance of Thorough Assessment

When patients are not forthcoming with relevant information, it makes the job of the psychiatric nurse that much more difficult. Prescribing treatment relies on a proper mental health assessment, which is often complicated by inaccurate or withheld information.

This is often due to a misunderstanding of the psychiatric care process, or fear of the stigma attached to receiving psychiatric treatment. The key to getting patients to open up and be honest about their situation is to first establish a rapport with them and explain the process to them.

Other barriers to open communication may exist, like language difficulties or cultural norms. Until a relationship of trust is built, it may be necessary to ask a colleague from the patient’s cultural background to obtain their personal information.

A patient’s view of their situation may also be influenced by their skewed perceptions and therefore not be grounded in reality. To overcome this problem, data should be validated and verified whenever possible.

Navigating Challenging Behaviors

Just as the reasons behind mental health disorders vary, so do patients’ treatments and recoveries. Some respond well to medications, while others might respond better to other treatments like therapy sessions or mindfulness exercises.

And there will be those who, regardless of the intervention choices, exhibit challenging behaviors. A common problem is the refusal to interact with their caregivers. But more often, the behavior can be angry, and handling patient aggression can take its toll on the psychiatric nurse.

This is why it’s crucial to develop strategies for de-escalation and management of such aggression. Remember that in some instances, although rare, this can be a reaction to psychiatric medications. If the patient has no prior history of aggression, it may be worthwhile looking into a substitute medication.

See the challenging behaviors not as a symptom, but as a clue in the search for more effective treatment.

Self-Care for Psychiatric Nurses

The mental and emotional effects of dealing with such challenging patient behaviors can be severe.

No mental health professional, and that includes psychiatric nurses, is immune. While some may appear to handle it better than others, the truth is, they are all affected by it. That’s why it’s so important for those new to psychiatric nursing to understand the need for self-care, and do something about it.

So, what does this mean, practically? It means that, as a psychiatric nurse, you should:

  • Understand and acknowledge the emotional and mental toll that your occupation brings.
  • Establish a healthy work/life balance from the start.
  • Learn to disconnect from the challenges of your workday, when at home and off-duty.
  • Practice mindfulness, try yoga or meditation — whatever helps you alleviate stress.
  • And perhaps most importantly, speak to another mental health professional regularly, to deal with issues that arise in your duties that affect you more deeply.

Related » Beware of Compassion Fatigue


Caring for others with mental health issues can make it more difficult to deal with your own. You may be reminded of your own past experiences, or fear similar developments in your own life. This is very common, and to be expected. Speak to a trusted colleague about your concerns.

To take care of others’ mental health, you must first take care of your own.

Magnifying lens over an exclamation markSpot an error in this article? A typo maybe? Or an incorrect source? Let us know!


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here