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Issues Ment Health Nurs. 2013 Apr;34(4):281-7. doi: 10.3109/01612840.2012.742603.

Ready, aim fire! Mental health nurses under siege in acute inpatient facilities.

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School of Nursing and Midwifery, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.


It has been clearly acknowledged and well-documented that physical, emotional, and psychological violence is a central theme and an expected workplace hazard for registered nurses working in acute inpatient mental health care facilities. Limited research, however, has focused on how registered nurses have been able to cope within this environment and adequately protect themselves from harm. A critical feminist research project recently explored the lived experience of 13 Australian, female, registered nurses working in a busy metropolitan acute inpatient mental health care facility. "Fear" was exposed as the precursor to violence and aggression, both "fear as experienced by the nurse" and "fear as experienced by the patient." The participants reported experiencing a sense of fear when they could not accurately or confidently anticipate a patient response or reaction. They identified this relationship with fear as being "part of the job" and part of the unpredictable nature of caring for people experiencing complex distortions in thinking and behavior. The participants believed, however, that additional workplace pressures complicated the therapeutic environment, resulting in a distraction from patient care and observation. This distraction could lead to nurse-patient miscommunication and the potential for violence. This article discusses a major theme to emerge from this study, "Better the devil you know!" The theme highlights how mental health nurses cope with violence and why they choose to continue working in this complex care environment.

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