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Mental health nurse jobs hindered by violence, aggression, stress

Mental health nurses (MHNs) make up the largest group of mental health workers in the country, but by 2030 there is projected to be a shortage of up to 18,500 nurses.

Researchers believe this is, in part, due to workforce attrition brought on by the unique workplace stressors MHNs face.

A recent study stated that between 88 and 100 per cent of MHNs have experienced verbal aggression from patients and 70 per cent have encountered physical aggression.

The study also found evidence that bullying between colleagues was an issue and that conflict with colleagues leads to “lower caring practices”.

Workplace aggression and bullying culture, coupled with other workplace stressors, such as time constraints and lack of resources, are causing MHNs to leave the workforce.

The academics surveyed Victorian MHNs to find out more about the relationship between workplace stressors and psychological wellbeing of MHNs.

Stressors were grouped into categories. Organisational service was the most common stressor category named (37 per cent), followed by consumer/carer (28 per cent), organisational role (25 per cent), and colleague-related (10 per cent).

The top ranked stressors reported by MHNs within these categories were violence and aggression followed by workload demands and time constraints.

They also found that those who reported low psychological wellbeing were more likely to name patient/consumer related care as their biggest workplace stressors, suggesting that staff confidence can be affected by patient interactions.

Lead author of this study, Kim Foster of the Australian Catholic University, said that this work highlights the need for initiatives aimed at reducing violence in the workplace and improvements in staff resilience.

“To address the looming mental health nursing workforce crisis in Australia, workplace stress needs to be an urgent priority for governments, industrial organisations, the profession, and mental health services,” Foster said. "Assertive measures need to be taken to reduce these stressors, and to strengthen nurses’ wellbeing and resilience.

"Organisations need to take urgent steps to increase staffing levels and actively recruit and retain specialist qualified mental health nurses. This can be proactively supported by government funding for specialist postgraduate mental health nursing programs which lead to specialist qualifications, and by funding for more mental health nursing positions in mental health services."

Foster also pointed to interventions such as Safewards, which is a model used by nurses in Victoria to reduce conflict and containment and increase safety for clients and staff.

"Organisations also need a safety culture for staff, which works to reduce bullying and staff conflict and build a positive workplace culture," she said.

"From an individual perspective, resilience programs can help strengthen nurses’ skills in dealing with stress. New graduates and early career nurses in particular need targeted wellbeing education and support to build their wellbeing and to reduce attrition."

Foster has been awarded a $317,500 Australian Research Council Linkage grant to conduct a large-scale trial of a workplace resilience program with nurses at NorthWestern Mental Health.

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