Aim: In this paper we aim to clarify the issue of spiritual care in the context of mental health nursing.
Background: The concept of spirituality in nursing has received a great deal of attention in recent years. However, despite many articles addressed to the issue, spiritual care remains poorly understood amongst nursing professionals and, as a result, spiritual needs are often neglected within the context of health care.
Methods: A series of focus groups was conducted to obtain the views of service users, carers and mental health nursing professionals about the concept of spirituality and the provision of spiritual care in mental health nursing.
Results: According to the views expressed in our focus groups, spiritual care relates to the acknowledgement of a person's sense of meaning and purpose to life which may, or may not, be expressed through formal religious beliefs and practices. The concept of spiritual care was also associated with the quality of interpersonal care in terms of the expression of love and compassion towards patients. Concerns were expressed that the ethos of mental health nursing and the atmosphere of care provision were becoming less personal, with increasing emphasis on the 'mechanics of nursing'.
Conclusions: The perceived failure of service providers to attend adequately to this component of care may be symptomatic of a medical culture in which the more readily observable and measurable elements in care practice have assumed a prominence over the more subjective, deeply personal components. In order for staff to acknowledge these issues it is argued that a more holistic approach to care should be adopted, which would entail multidisciplinary education in spiritual care.