The mixed attitudes of nurse's to caring for people with mental illness in a rural general hospital

Frances Reed, Les Fitzgerald
International Journal of Mental Health Nursing 2005, 14 (4): 249-57
Mainstreaming of mental health care and the prevalence of mental illness have increased the requirement for care by nurses in the general hospital setting. In rural Australia, mental health services are limited and nurses have less access to support and education. Little is known about how these factors influence attitudes and the care of people with mental illness in rural hospitals. A qualitative descriptive study was used to investigate nurses' attitudes to caring for people with mental illness, the issues that impact on their ability to provide care, and the effect of education, experience, and support. In 2003, 10 nurses from two wards in a rural hospital were interviewed. Participants from one ward had education and support from mental health nurses. Attitudes were found to be inextricably linked to issues that influence nurses' ability to provide care. Dislike was apparent from nurses who suggested it was not their role. Others identified fear, causing avoidance. Conversely, those receiving support and education described increased comfort, with some nurses expressing enthusiasm for mental health care, seeing it as integral to nursing. The priority of physical care, time constraints, environmental unsuitability, rurality, and the lack of skill, knowledge, and mental health services reduced safety and effective care. A limited ability to help was reported, despite support for Mental Health Strategy goals. Positive experience promoted through education and support was required for nurses to improve care and attitudes. Notably, collaboration with mental health nurses was identified as helping nurses overcome fear and increase competence in caring for people with mental illness.

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