Locked external doors on inpatient mental health units: A scoping review

Adam Searby, Russell James, Jim Snipe, Phil Maude

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


The principles of least restrictive care and recovery-focused practice are promoted as contemporary practice in the care of individuals with mental ill health, underpinning legislation concerning mental health and illness in many jurisdictions worldwide. Inpatient mental health units with locked doors are incompatible with this style of care and throwback to a time where care for mental illness was primarily custodial. The aim of this scoping review is to determine whether evidence exists for locking mental health unit doors, whether this practice is compatible with recovery-focused care and to determine whether door locking has changed since a review conducted by Van Der Merwe et al. (Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, 16, 2009, 293) found that door locking was not the preferred practice in the management of acute mental health units. We used Arksey and O'Malley's (International Journal of Social Research Methodology: Theory and Practice, 8, 2005, 19) framework for scoping reviews, with our initial search locating 1377 studies, with screening narrowing final papers for inclusion to 20. Methodologies for papers included 12 using quantitative methodology, 5 qualitative and 3 that used mixed methods designs. Poor evidence was found for door locking to mitigate risks such as absconding, aggression or illicit substance importation. Furthermore, locked doors had a detrimental impact on the therapeutic relationship, nurse job satisfaction and intention to leave the profession. This scoping review indicates that research is urgently needed to address a mental healthcare culture where door locking is an entrenched practice. Studies of alternative approaches to risk management are required to ensure inpatient mental health units are truly least-restrictive, therapeutic environments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1544-1560
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Journal of Mental Health Nursing
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • absconding
  • aggression
  • locked unit/ward
  • mental health recovery
  • mental health services
  • psychiatric nursing

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