How may cultural and political ideals cause moral distress in acute psychiatry? A qualitative study
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionBMC Psychiatry. 2022, 22 . 10.1186/s12888-022-03832-3
Background There is growing public criticism of the use of restraints or coercion. Demands for strengthened patient participation and prevention of coercive measures in mental health care has become a priority for care professionals, researchers, and policymakers in Norway, as in many other countries. We have studied in what ways this current ideal of reducing the use of restraints or coercion and attempting to practice in a least restrictive manner may raise morals issues and create experiences of moral distress in nurses working in acute psychiatric contexts. Methods Qualitative interview study, individual and focus group interviews, with altogether 30 nurses working in acute psychiatric wards in two mental health hospitals in Norway. Interviews were recorded and transcribed. A thematic analytic approach was chosen. Results While nurses sense a strong expectation to minimise the use of restraints/coercion, patients on acute psychiatric wards are being increasingly ill with a greater tendency to violence. This creates moral doubt and dilemmas regarding how much nurses should endure on their own and their patients’ behalf and may expose patients and healthcare personnel to greater risk of violence. Nurses worry that new legislation and ideals may prevent acutely mentally ill and vulnerable patients from receiving the treatment they need as well as their ability to create a psychological safe climate on the ward. Furthermore, persuading the patient to stay on the ward can cause guilt and uneasiness. Inadequate resources function as external constraints that may frustrate nurses from realising the treatment ideals set before them. Conclusions Mental health nurses working in acute psychiatric care are involved in a complex interplay between political and professional ideals to reduce the use of coercion while being responsible for the safety of both patients and staff as well as creating a therapeutic atmosphere. External constraints like inadequate resources may furthermore hinder the healthcare workers/nurses from realising the treatment ideals set before them. Caught in the middle nurses may experience moral distress that may lead to physical discomfort, uneasiness and feelings of guilt, shame, and defeat. Pressure on nurses and care providers to reduce or eliminate the use of coercion and reduction of health care spending are incompatible demands.