The problematic nature of defining nursing is examined. Contrasts are set out in respect of the work of different grades of practitioner and how these do or do not constitute nursing care. A concept of caring and caring profession is utilized as a backdrop by which it is argued that caring can be defended as an ethical position independently of its objects of care. The paper asserts the existence of different perspectives within mental health nursing and demonstrates how these are influenced by extraneous forces. It concludes by (1) defending universal moral rules that operate independently of situations or the objects to which they apply and (2) that the usefulness of invoking a nursing identity may be less rather than more illuminative in exposing what mental health (psychiatric) ‘nursing’ is.