‘Unleash The Potential’: Thousands more mental health nurses needed to meet rising demand

Mental health nurses at last year’s conference. Photos: ACMHN

There is almost 25,000 mental health nurses working across the country, according to the Department of Health and Aged Care’s latest health workforce data. Despite growth in numbers, Adrian Armitage, CEO of the Australian College of Mental Health Nurses (ACMHN), says it’s not nearly enough to combat the “silent pandemic” of rising mental health issues emerging across the country.

Ahead of next week’s 47th ACMHN International Mental Health Nursing Conference, to be held in Melbourne, the College has called on the government and key stakeholders to invest more to support nurses working in the sector to undertake further education. The College believes registered nurses who have completed additional post-graduate education in mental health, such as a Graduate Certificate, are better placed to care for often complex patients, and deal with the inherent challenges of the sector.

“It’s about attraction and retention and we can only have that if you look after and support the nurses,” Mr Armitage told the ANMJ.

“[Mental health nurses] are absolutely shouldering the huge load of post-COVID mental disorders. People lost their businesses, their families, their loved ones, the whole bit.”

To fill the shortfall and meet demand, Mr Armitage estimates Australia needs at least 40,000 mental health nurses.

The College’s call for further education, which would require government funding and a clear strategy to create more mental health nursing education pathways, would help arm RNs with greater understanding and skills to work in the sector, he claims.

Mr Armitage said this year’s conference theme, ‘Unleash the Potential’, was chosen to highlight the lack of government investment in mental health nurses and, importantly, the more substantial impact the workforce could make in caring for all Australians experiencing mental health issues.

Mental health nurses at last year’s conference. Photos: ACMHN

Keynote speakers include Australian Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Mental Health, Dr Ruth Vine, actor and mental health advocate, Samuel Johnson, Barwon Health Director of Nursing, Dr Rachel Tindall, and Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Matthew Ball. The three-day conference, which the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) is sponsoring, is set to cover a vast range of topics including clinical practice, education, research, and the future focus for mental health nurses.

Mr Armitage said the annual gathering, which is sold out, has attracted many of the country’s most prominent, and inspiring, mental health leaders.

“It’s so important to know that you’re part of a bigger, broader, very talented community,” he said, when asked to impart his message to the wider workforce.

“The conference is about getting some of the best minds and the best-trained mental health nurses in the country together with some of the early career mental health nurses. And there’s about a 50-50 split in our delegates. The aim is to inspire those future leaders to actually really start initiating change for mental health nurses.”

Find more information about the 47th ACHM International Mental Health Nursing Conference here

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