Safer workplaces on the way for Victorian mental health workers

Working as a nurse in a mental health ward presents its own unique set of challenges. While nursing staff in a surgical ward, for instance, are primarily concerned with the care and treatment of patients' physical ailments, mental health nurses have to contend with behavioural issues and potential conflict on a daily basis.

That's why the UK-developed clinical model, Safewards, is being introduced in Victorian facilities, aiming to provide a new way to manage conflict and make mental health facilities safer for staff and patients alike. 

Nurses that excel at dealing with conflict are essential to mental health care.Nurses that excel at dealing with conflict are essential to mental health care.

Recognising good interpersonal skills in nursing staff

Dealing with high-stress situations can be a regular activity for mental health staff, but some nurses possess a natural ability for de-escalating such incidents. These professionals are vital for the overall peace and smooth-running of mental health facilities, but their value is often overlooked by traditional clinical models. St Vincent's Mental Health nurse and researcher, Dr Hamilton, says that recognising and harnessing these skills is a central aspect of the Safewards approach.

"Everyone knows there is such a thing as de-escalation – using words to assist people who are charged up to calm down but it takes time and we don't always notice but some nurses are better at it than others – they've got a much better repertoire of skills," Dr Hamilton explained to HealthTimes.

"It's really nice the way that Safewards shifts the emphasis from maybe being a good organisational citizen to being a good interpersonal practitioner. That doesn't always happen for nurses. If a nurse is caring and takes a bit longer…they can be quite criticised for that."

A focus on positivity helps to encourage better cooperation between mental health staff and their patients.

A positive spin on mental health

Another important element of the Safewards model is its focus on positivity to promote a more harmonious environment in mental health facilities, encouraging better cooperation between patients and staff. This incudes the use of positive language to prevent negative preconceptions about patients from being perpetuated, and saying yes wherever possible.

"So if you've got a situation where the patient wants to leave the ward because they desperately want to go next door and buy a coffee or something and as far as the nurse knows there's concerns about their safety on leaving the ward, then working out a way to say yes to them, even though you might need to delay or modify what can be done," explained Dr Hamilton. 

The Safewards model is already having a significant effect on the care of mental health patients in Victoria, and if it proves successful, could transform the work of mental health nurses around Australia. 

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