Academic journal article Contemporary Nurse : a Journal for the Australian Nursing Profession

Undergraduate Nursing Students' Attitudes towards Mental Health Nursing: Determining the Influencing Factors

Academic journal article Contemporary Nurse : a Journal for the Australian Nursing Profession

Undergraduate Nursing Students' Attitudes towards Mental Health Nursing: Determining the Influencing Factors

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

A substantial number of studies conducted in Australia and overseas have demonstrated that the majority of undergraduate nursing students do not view a career in mental health nursing favourably (Arnswald 1987; CaroselliKarinja, McGowan & Penn 1988; Carter 1986; Ferguson 1998; Happell 1998, 2001; Stevens & Dulhunty 1992, 1997). Empirical evidence strongly suggests that nursing students also hold negative attitudes towards people experiencing a mental illness (Davidson & Connery 2003; Emrich, Thompson & Moore2003; Tsang, Tam, Chan & Chang 2003), particularly at the beginning of their course (Stevens & Dulhunty 1997). Specifically, neophyte nursing students generally believe the same myths and stereotypes regarding mental illness and consumers of mental health services as the general population. Nursing students are likely to share the view that people experiencing a mental illness are dangerous, unpredictable, more prone to violence and at least partially responsible for their illness (Emrich et al. 2003).

Negative attitudes towards mental illness are generally offered as an explanation for why beginning nursing students do not consider a future career in psychiatric/mental health nursing. Findings from longitudinal studies of preregistration nurses' career intentions conducted in New South Wales (Stevens & Dulhunty 1997) and Victoria (Happell 2001) are consistent with this view. In this study, nursing students indicated they tended to hold a negative view of the consumers of mental health services at the commencement of their course. By the end, however, the major reason for maintaining negative attitudes was related to experiences encountered during clinical placement.

A Western Australia study suggested that other factors may influence students' attitudes towards psychiatric/mental health nursing (Wynaden, Orb, McGowan & Downie 2000). Wynaden et al. (2000) explored third year undergraduate nursing students' perceived level of preparedness for the mental health field, their beliefs regarding the adequacy of the mental health course content and lecturing within the comprehensive nursing program, and perceived attitudinal change as a consequence of clinical placements. Students' attitudes and beliefs were assessed via the administration of a 16-item questionnaire before and after their mental health theoretical and clinical experience. The findings demonstrated that students do not consider themselves to be adequately prepared to work in the mental health nursing field and, indeed, consider themselves considerably less prepared than they are in the general nursing field. Whilst it appeared that students' attitudes towards consumers significantly improved following clinical and theoretical experiences during third year, this study did not examine specific attitudes towards mental illness, nor did it assess students' attitudes towards mental health nursing and their desire to pursue a career in this area. Therefore, the relationship between preparedness, attitudes towards mental illness and consumers, and a desire to purse a career in the psychiatric/ mental health nursing field were not investigated.

The ongoing problems associated with recruiting newly graduated nurses to the psychiatric/mental health nursing field in Australia have been extensively documented (Auditor General Victoria 2002; Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2003a, 2003b; Clinton & Hazelton 2000a, 2000b; Department of Health and Aged Care 2000; Happell 1998; Stevens & Dulhunty 1992, 1997). It is of utmost importance that a full and comprehensive understanding of undergraduate nursing students' attitudes towards mental health nursing and other factors that may influence their decision to pursue a career in this speciality area be properly understood, if we are to overcome nursing shortfalls. The aim of the current study, therefore, was to examine the relationship between students' desire to pursue a career in psychiatric/mental health nursing, their attitudes towards mental illness and psychiatric / mental health nursing, and their perceived level of preparedness for the field. …

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