this bibliographic study analyzes scientific texts published in the cepen database in the mental health field (1979-2007). a total of 280 abstracts were investigated, of which 208 were master’s theses. the individuals investigated in these studies were professionals (57), patients (50), and professors and/or students (18). among the themes addressed between 2000 and 2007 were the following: nursing care in mental health (40), perception in mental health (37); and transversality in mental health care (27). this study provided an overview of the scientific research produced in the mental health field in brazilian nursing graduate programs. we expect this study to elicit reflections concerning mental health care practice and enable new approaches for nursing promoting health and the prevention of diseases in order to enable patients to recover their citizenship, autonomy and quality of life.