Mental health nurses who endure verbal aggression need better support

More attention should be paid to helping mental health nurses manage their reactions to verbal abuse, an academic has suggested.

More attention should be given to helping mental health nurses manage their reactions to verbal abuse, an academic has suggested.

Greater attention should be paid to training nurses on how best to deal with verbal abuse
from patients, says mental health nursing professor Geoff Dickens. Picture: iStock

Abertay University mental health nursing professor Geoff Dickens said: ‘Training provision largely focuses on managing physical aggression through techniques such as de-escalation.

‘While this is great, more attention should be paid to how nurses regulate their own responses to this behaviour [verbal aggression].’

Verbal taunting

Professor Dickens’s comments come after a study he supervised, carried out by Birmingham City University lecturer in forensic psychology Rahul Jalil, found a link between verbal taunting and decision-making.

He added: ‘This study shows that anger seems to be a mechanism that plays a unique role.

‘While it is common to hear that nurses should “just deal with it”, it is unreasonable to believe that nurses are immune and can do this without help or support.’

Aggression and attitudes

Dr Jalil questioned 68 mental health nurses on low and medium secure wards across three secure mental health units in England, on aggression and attitudes to restraint and seclusion.

He then compared this with the number of restraints and seclusions participants were involved with in the three months before and after being quizzed.

‘Nurses who reported being the target of derogatory remarks reported higher levels of anger than their colleagues.

‘What’s more, this was not true for those who had witnessed greater levels of physical aggression or self-harm,' he said.

‘Humiliating remarks’

‘Moreover, the same nurses who experienced humiliating remarks were more likely to endorse coercive management techniques, such as restraint or seclusion.’

However, the study published in the International Journal of Nursing Studies, concluded ‘anger did not predict actual involvement in such incidents’.

Dr Jalil explained: ‘It seems that existing checks and balances, perhaps including team support or nurses’ own self-awareness, act to prevent a spiral in which behaviour is dealt with coercively.

‘This in turn might make patients more likely to insult the nursing staff.’

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