Exposure to workplace trauma for forensic mental health nurses: A scoping review

Claire Newman, Michael Roche, Doug Elliott

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Forensic mental health is a challenging workplace, with nurses subject to various trauma exposures in their professional role. Objectives: To identify the key concepts related to the nature, extent and impact of workplace trauma for forensic mental health nurses. Design: A scoping review, informed by the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses extension for Scoping Reviews (PRISMA-ScR) tool. Methods: Sources of evidence were identified and assessed for inclusion using an explicit search strategy. Relevant information was extracted and synthesised to present a descriptive summary of existing evidence. Results: Of the 16 articles on workplace trauma for forensic mental health nurses included in the review, nine reported data related to extent (incidence and severity) and 14 described the impact. The incidence (per bed/per year) of each workplace trauma type ranged from 0.95 – 7.15 for physical violence, 0.39–5.12 for verbal abuse, 0.03–0.12 for sexual violence, and 1.47–7.9 for self-harming behaviour. The proportion of incidents at the lowest severity rating ranged from 15.1% to 84.7%, and the range for the highest severity rating was 0% to 38.7%. In the single study that examined the incidence of vicarious trauma, 14.9% reported low levels and 27.7% reported high levels. Psychological distress was the most commonly reported impact of workplace trauma, identified in eight studies. Seven studies reported limited data for physical injury from workplace trauma. The impacts of exposure to workplace trauma reported in the remaining studies included needing to access psychological support, experiencing physiological symptoms, feeling less safe at work, and requiring time off work. With the exception of two studies providing limited data related to absenteeism, the impact for organisations was not explored in existing literature. Conclusions: While studies indicated that forensic mental health nurses are frequently exposed to various forms of workplace trauma, reports of severe assaults on staff were rare. Although limited, these findings suggest that cumulative exposure to workplace trauma over time, or exposure to more severe forms of physical violence, increase forensic mental health nurse vulnerability to experiencing detrimental impacts on their personal and professional wellbeing.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103897
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Nursing Studies
Publication statusPublished - May 2021
Externally publishedYes


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