Managing and caring for distressed and disturbed service users: The thoughts and feelings experienced by a sample of English mental health nurses

M. Chambers, X. Kantaris, V. Guise, Maritta Anneli Vaelimaeki

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)


High levels of distress and disturbance among service users experiencing acute mental illness is a major problem for mental health nurses (MHNs). The thoughts and feelings experienced by these nurses when caring for service users are of paramount importance as they influence clinical practice and caregiving. Similarly to research by other countries, this paper reports national, qualitative data regarding the thoughts and feelings of English MHNs who care for these service users within acute inpatient psychiatric settings. Data were collected from focus groups in which MHNs working in acute inpatient settings in England participated and analysed using inductive content analysis. Findings highlighted three broad themes: (1) emotional and cognitive dissonance; (2) therapeutic engagement; and (3) organizational management and support. The prevailing thoughts of nurses were of cognitive dissonance and the conflict between benevolence and malevolence if coercive measures were seen as negative rather than positive; the prevailing feelings experienced by nurses were fear, anxiety and vulnerability. Nurses would like better communication with service users, prevention of coercive measures and the use of alternative methods of care and/or management to ensure enhanced care. Participants considered practice development initiatives, education, training, staff and managerial support including debriefing and clinical supervision as the way forward. Despite the small sample size and its limitations, these national data add to the existing literature, and the study findings link to those of other studies both nationally and internationally. Collectively, these studies are building up a general picture of the distress, cognitive and emotional dissonance experienced by MHNs when using coercive interventions. The findings will help to develop MHN education and enhance practice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)289-297
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Acute
  • Feelings
  • Inpatient
  • Mental health nursing
  • Thoughts

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Phychiatric Mental Health


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