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Psychiatric Nurses


Although some people with mental illness were treated as early as the 15th century in institutions like the Hospital of Saint Mary of Bethlehem in London, the practice of institutionalizing people with mental disorders did not become common until the 17th century.

During the 17th, 18th, and even into the 19th centuries, treatment of patients with mental illness was quite crude and often simply barbarous. This state of affairs started to change as medical practitioners began to see mental illness as a medical problem. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, hospitals began increasingly concentrating on keeping patients clean and comfortable, building their self-respect, and treating them with friendliness and encouragement. This method of treating mental illness resulted in the establishment of specially designed institutions for the care of mental patients.

Linda Richards is considered to be the first psychiatric nurse in the United States. In 1882, she opened the Boston City Hospital Training School for Nurses to educate nurses in the care of psychiatric patients. But it wasn't until more than 30 years later that the first psychiatric nursing program of study within the curriculum of a nursing school was established. Such training was gradually added to nursing school programs throughout the United States and Canada.

The National Mental Health Act of 1946 created a strong interest in mental health issues and the educational preparation for psychiatric nurses and other professionals in the field. In 1954, the first graduate program in psychiatric nursing was started at Rutgers University.

The American Psychiatric Nurses Association has emerged as the leading voice of psychiatric nurses in the United States. It has more than 10,000 members involved in inpatient and outpatient levels of care.

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