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Activities for Mental Health Nursing Students

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Mental health nursing students receive specialized training that equips them with the skills and tools necessary for managing patients with mental illnesses or cognitive impairments. Activities for mental health nursing students should reinforce core skills such as behavior management and patient monitoring as well as core knowledge such as symptom analysis and cognitive behavioral theories. Challenging, hands-on activities stimulate the type of critical thinking skills that are necessary for an effective mental health nurse.

Psychological Theories Project

The mental health industry has been influenced by several schools of thought over centuries of mental health history. Psychologists and theorists have proposed hundreds of therapies, approaches and treatments, some of which are still in use today. An effective mental health nurse has a basic understanding of the most prominent academic schools of thought regarding mental health theory. In this project, organize mental health nursing students into groups of three. Each group selects or is assigned a theorist or school of thought related to mental health care and nursing. Suggested topics include behaviorism, cognitivism, psychoanalysis and humanistic psychology. Each group must conduct research on its topic and prepare a paper and presentation to give to the class.

Following the presentations, develop an exam based on them. Administer the exam to assess the degree to which nursing students understood the various schools of thought presented by each group.

Strategies for Behavior Management

One of the main duties of a mental health nurses is managing the behavior of patients in such a way that patients do not cause harm to themselves or others. Varying degrees of mental illness cause different types of behavioral reactions ranging from violence to suicidal behavior. Mental health nurses must be well versed in a variety of strategies for managing the behavior of mental health patients.

Arrange several role-playing activities for nursing students in which they must develop a strategy for managing a patient's dangerous or undesirable behavior. An expert in the field should volunteer as the role-playing patient to ensure that the behaviors and responses are accurate to real-life situations. Nursing students take turns participating in the role-playing activities and witnessing their peers navigate the role-playing. Sample ideas for roles include a patient who admits a desire to self harm or a patient who refuses to take a necessary medication. All nursing students must also demonstrate knowledge of laws that protect patients during searches or treatment procedures.

Shadow Day

The most beneficial experience for a mental health nursing student is to shadow a current mental health nurse during a typical work day. Shadow days for mental health facilities require special permission and a legal arrangement between the mental health facility and the partnering school or university. Most mental health facilities do not permit unauthorized visitors under the age of 18.

Match small groups of mental health nursing students with volunteer mental health nurses. Nursing students should take notes on typical activities, daily routines and any strategies used by the nurse that students observe. Students then prepare a reflection paper about their shadow day experience.

Alternative Therapy Project

Many mental health facilities experiment with alternative types of mental health therapy for qualified patients. Instruct groups of mental health nursing students to investigate some form of alternative mental health therapy. The National Mental Health Information Center, maintained by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has a list of researched alternative therapies for mental health. Each student group should prepare a presentation that outlines the definition of the therapy, relevant research, potential conflicts and the effectiveness of the therapy on specific patient groups. Host a debate about the value or drawbacks of each therapy type.


Hannah Wahlig began writing and editing professionally in 2001. Her experience includes copy for newspapers, journals and magazines, as well as book editing. She is also a certified lactation counselor. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Mount Holyoke College, and Master's degrees in education and community psychology from the University of Massachusetts.

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