Breaking the silence about violence in mental health
The impact of violence on mental health nurses is revealed through the experiences of a group of nurses in an article in
the June issue of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation’s (NZNO) magazine, Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand, published this
week (available here
The nurses believe there is a culture of silence about violence in mental health. They agreed to speak about their
experiences to their professional nursing magazine - to break that silence and to shine light on the problem.
In the article “Assaults leave nurses fearful”, the nurses describe being punched, kicked, stabbed, burnt, choked and
verbally abused and threatened. Nurses who felt competent and confident before they were assaulted became fearful and
struggled to cope with the physical and psychological effects of the attacks. Their families were also deeply affected.
The article is written by an experienced mental health nurse from Christchurch.
Figures gained from district health boards (DHBs) via the Official Information Act show reported assaults by mental
health patients on staff more than doubled between 2010 and 2012.
According to the article, mental health is more prone to violence than other parts of the health sector, because of the
nature of some kinds of mental illness which can lead to aggressive, irrational behaviour. This can be exacerbated by
drug and alcohol use, and other social factors. Working conditions in mental health services can also affect the risk of
violence. Nurses are most vulnerable to attacks from patients because they spend the most time with patients and provide
most of the front-line care.
Mental health nursing directors told Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand DHBs worked hard to provide safe working environments for their nurses, through ensuring staff numbers and skills were
suitable. Staff are also taught how to de-escalate violent situations and how to break away from a patient’s hold.
NZNO provides industrial and professional support to more than half the country’s mental health nurses.