Towards a model for understanding the development of post-traumatic stress and general distress in mental health nurses

Joyce Lee, Michael Daffern, James R. P. Ogloff, Trish Martin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


In their daily work, mental health nurses (MHN) are often exposed to stressful events, including patient-perpetrated aggression and violence. Personal safety and health concerns, as well as concern for the physical and psychological well-being of patients, dominate; these concerns have a profound impact on nurses. This cross-sectional study explored and compared the psychological well-being of 196 hospital-based MHN (97 forensic and 99 mainstream registered psychiatric nurses or psychiatric state enrolled nurses). The aim was to examine exposure to inpatient aggression and work stress, and identify factors contributing to the development of post-traumatic stress reactions and general distress. Multiple regression analyses indicated that working in a mainstream setting is associated with increased work stress; however, mainstream and forensic nurses experienced similar psychological well-being. As a group, 14-17% of mainstream and forensic nurses met the diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder, and 36% scored above the threshold for psychiatric caseness. A tentative model of post-traumatic stress and general distress in nurses was developed, illustrating the impact of aggression and stress on well-being. The present study affirms that mental health nursing is a challenging and stressful occupation. Implications for organizations, managers, and individual nurses are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-58
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Mental Health Nursing
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Aggression
  • Forensic
  • Mental health nursing
  • Stress
  • Trauma

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