Exposure to patient aggression and health outcomes for forensic mental health nurses: A cross-sectional survey

Claire Newman, Michael Roche, Doug Elliott

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Aims: The aims of the study were to determine the types and prevalence of forensic mental health nurse exposure to patient aggression and explore the impact of these exposures on their physical and mental health and work absences. Design: Cross-sectional survey conducted January to April 2020. Methods: All 205 nurses working in an Australian high-security inpatient forensic mental health hospital were invited to participate. An online survey included the Perception of Prevalence of Aggression Scale to measure respondent exposure to types of patient aggression, and the SF-36v2 to measure mental and physical health. Absence from work and other work and individual characteristics were also explored. Results: Sixty-eight respondents completed the survey. Verbal abuse was the most experienced aggression type, followed by physical violence and observing violence, patient self-harming behaviours and sexual violence. Nurses who worked in acute units experienced significantly more exposure to overall aggression than nurses in non-acute units. Higher level of aggression was associated with number of days sick leave taken and days off due to aggression or violence. Higher level of aggression was associated with poorer mental health, and patient self-harming behaviour was associated with poorer physical health. Conclusions: Nurses in acute units experience higher levels of inpatient aggression and are therefore at increased risk of being impacted by the exposure. Findings indicate a psychological impact of exposure to frequent aggression and potential for an accumulative effect of exposure to traumatic events on nurse well-being. Nurses who are victim of, or witness, physical violence are most likely to take time off work. Impact: This study provides further evidence that forensic mental health nurses are frequently exposed to various forms of patient aggression. For some nurses, this exposure to patient aggression negatively impacted their mental and physical health. Employing organizations should therefore prioritize provision of formal support for nurses. No patient or public contribution.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1201-1211
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Advanced Nursing
Issue number3
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - Sept 2023
Externally publishedYes


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