- 16 December 2019
- 8 min read
What does the public really think of mental health nursing?
We surveyed Mental Health Nurses and the general public which revealed a disconnect in how mental health services are perceived.
Overview of what we found out
At Nurses.co.uk we hear from nursing professionals across the UK on a regular basis. We conducted research with mental health nurses and members of the public. We asked them about mental health provision, their attitudes and perceptions.
We were interested to discover that there were stark differences between the attitudes of the public, and the way mental health nurses felt they were perceived.
Public awareness and understanding of mental health has changed dramatically over the last few years. However, this hasn’t always transferred to feelings about those who work in the sector and the services they provide.
Here's what our survey revealed.
Stigma is seen as an issue
83% of mental health nurses surveyed felt that there is a stigma attached to mental health nursing:
It’s shocking that so many mental health nurses are saddled with the feeling that the public don’t appreciate their work, and it shows in some of the comments we received:
• "People think we just throw pills at patients, lock them up, restrain them or talk to people but offer no real therapeutic value"
• "They don't think we are real nurses"
• "The public expectation is that mental health nurses are lazy"
Mental health nurses feel misunderstood
Mental health nurses see the public as ignorant about what it is they actually do, and this is reflected in the large volume of opinion pieces debating whether the job should require a degree:
A small number of nurses felt the lack of mental health awareness extends to the medical setting itself. A few had complaints about other medical professionals missing important signs of mental illness, or patients faking symptoms leading to inappropriate referrals:
• "There has been an increase in inappropriate referrals"
• "People who are trying to get out of a prison sentence or who feign symptoms or have anti-social personalities do not naturally fit the criteria"
Mental health nurses face belittling attitudes
One of the most concerning insights we discovered was that over 70% of mental health nurses said they experience dismissive or belittling stereotypes of their work on a regular basis:
The problem doesn’t appear to be the general public
However, when we turned to the public to ask about their perceptions of the sector, the results were surprisingly different to what the nurses thought.
Members of the public who have relatives or loved ones receiving mental health nursing services were very positive about the level of quality the profession provides:
Mental health nurses feel most valued by their patients, friends and families
Many mental health nurses agreed that the group who appreciated their work the most was their patients:
In the light of devastating spending cuts, it’s not surprising that mental health nurses are sceptical when it comes to the way they are perceived by government.
Nurses agreed by a large margin that the least appreciation of their work came from the NHS and government.
Perception notwithstanding: nurses need more support from government
Responses to our survey from mental health nurses highlighted the concerns which many within the profession have about issues such as financial restrictions, staffing issues and increasing demand for services.
Some nurses are concerned that these issues are leading to a worsening quality of service for their patients and their families:
• "All wards in my service are struggling with staffing levels which has a negative effect on patients. It creates a more hostile environment- staff and patients are both fed up! This creates more problems and in turn makes the service undesirable to new staff which perpetuates the staffing problems"
• "It depends on the organisation and funding but I have observed people being given the bare minimum due to funding pressures and quality of life is not always factored into assessments made"
What can be done to change this disconnect? Nurses gave us some great ideas of what can be done to show mental health nurses that they are valued and respected.
• "Perhaps the public should be made aware of what nurses endure and what they actually do for patients, often denying time for themselves and their own families"
• "We need more awareness of issues such as psychosis and bipolar, and more education around personality disorders."
• "We need less negative press around nursing in media, and more accountability of what we actually do as mental health nurses"
Projecting a positive view of mental health nursing
The research shows that mental health nurses are highly regarded by the public and well respected, but despite this many within the industry feel that the public don’t value their work.