Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners: Roles, Needs and Opportunities

Are you interested in working with individuals and families in all aspects of their mental health and wellness? 

Patti Nisbet.

Do you envision a future collaborating with an interdisciplinary group of professionals on innovative practices to integrate behavioral health with primary care? Are you interested in service to rural, underserved and vulnerable populations both in the U.S. and globally? Would you like to consult with community and world health organizations, corporations and legislators on how to evaluate and implement evidenced-based, accessible and affordable mental health care? If the answer is “yes”, a career as a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner will offer you these opportunities.

There is a critical need for mental health professionals in the U.S., and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNP) are well qualified to help address our nation’s burden of mental health and substance use issues, from direct patient care to policy and research collaboration. 

The many roles of the PMHNP

PMHNPs are prepared to provide all aspects of mental health and substance use disorder services to diverse populations across the life span in a broad spectrum of settings, such as social service/mental health agencies, primary care clinics, hospitals, schools, health maintenance organizations, prisons and private practice. PMHNPs diagnose and treat mental health and substance use disorders with multivariate evidenced-based interventions that include individual and family psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy and medication management. They identify family and individual psychosocial risk factors and collaborate on solutions to mental health system challenges.  PMHNPs are trained to develop and facilitate programs that provide prevention, early identification and education to individuals, families and health care organizations.

Treatment gaps

Mental health is paramount to the overall health and wellness of individuals and for a healthy society and the prevalence of mental health and substance use disorders in the United States demonstrates the critical need for more mental health professionals such as PMHNPs.

It is estimated that approximately 58 million American adults are affected by a mental health and/or substance use disorder.1

Only 44% of adults and 20% of children/adolescents receive the care that they need. This lack of treatment contributes to suicide, which is one of the leading causes of death in U.S. It is estimated that by 2025, there will be a shortfall of 250,000 professionals needed to meet the needs of mental health treatment.2

Opportunities to address a critical need

There are approximately 270,000 nurse practitioners in the U.S., and only 12,690 of those are certified as psychiatric nurse practitioners.This is one of the driving forces behind a 17% increase in psychiatric advanced practice registered nurse job opportunities from 2014-2015.

Doctor of Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners are well positioned and have the qualifications to expand access to quality mental health and substance use disorder treatment and to help meet this shortfall. With more PMHNPs serving our communities, the U.S. will be better positioned to implement more preventative measures and early identification of issues that have a serious and detrimental ripple effect across our society – and across health care disciplines, we will be better able to provide the whole person care that is essential for healthy individuals and a healthy nation.


  1. American Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA). (2020). Position Statement.
  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). (2017). Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results From the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
  3. American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP). (2019). “Are you considering a career as psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner?”