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Mental health nurses branded 'idle' by colleagues

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Nurses often view mental health colleagues as idle and incompetent, possibly because of stigma around their clients, researchers have claimed.

Mental health was the area in which nurses least wanted to work and the one that commanded the least respect from the public, according to a survey of 122 US nurses published in the Archives of Psychiatric Nursing.

A&E and intensive care were rated as the areas most highly respected by the public, with paediatrics the area in which most nurses wanted to work.

Within nine characteristics that were listed in the survey, psychiatric nurses were most likely to be described as ‘unskilled’, ‘illogical’, ‘idle’
and ‘disrespected’.

‘These findings are similar to those of studies conducted with medical students in Australia and in the United States, in which psychiatry was similarly ranked as less attractive and least respected,’ said the study authors, from the University of Akron’s college of nursing in Ohio. The researchers said the negative perceptions displayed could indicate the presence of stigmatising attitudes towards people with mental illness.

‘The notion that psychiatric nurses are perceived as incompetent and weak does suggest an association between the caregivers and their charges,’ said the authors.

Ian Hulatt, RCN mental health policy adviser, said he thought similar conclusions would be reached if the study were to be replicated in the UK.

‘If you work with a socially devolved group, you are going to suffer a degree of associated stigma,’ he said.

‘There’s no doubt mental health nurses have to face that sort of discrimination and the suggestions that you’re not a “real nurse”,’ he added. ‘It’s unpleasant, odious and completely inaccurate and it holds the profession back.’

Brian Rogers, professional officer at the Mental Health Nurses Association, said: ‘It’s useful to see a piece of research that validates many people’s anecdotal evidence and, while it’s American research, I think the situation is similar over here.

‘When I was training – and I don’t think this has changed much – there was a perception that all mental health nurses did was drink tea and coffee, and smoke a lot.’

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Forming a therapeutic relationship with patients who have MH issues involves talking and socialising with them. If this involves a brew and a fag, then how is this lazy? We are multi-tasking.

    Nurses outside of the MH world often do not have the time or inclination to spend with patients. Actually being with our patients is the attraction of our job.

    We do not slag off other branches because we are comfortable with our role and I believe we are the subject of derision because other branches are jealous of the time we are able to spend with our patients.

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