Caring for children with complex emotional and psychological disorders: experiences of nurses in a rural paediatric unit

J Clin Nurs. 2009 Dec;18(24):3441-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2702.2008.02567.x. Epub 2009 Jan 7.


Aims: To explore the experiences of general nurses towards caring for children with mental health issues and to identify strategies to improve management of these children.

Background: There has been an increase of children and adolescents with complex emotional and psychological disorders being admitted to paediatric units of general hospitals due to a lack of specialist child and youth mental health facilities. The study is situated in a 16 bed paediatric unit of a rural public hospital. As the closest inpatient child mental health unit of this kind is more than 600 km away, the paediatric unit admits children and adolescents with a primary psychiatric diagnosis.

Design: A participatory action research approach guided this study.

Methods: Focus groups and individual interviews were conducted with a purposive convenience sample of all nursing staff (n = 20) working in the paediatric unit. Verbatim interview transcripts were analysed to identify the major themes.

Results: Two main themes emerged from data analysis: (1) role preparation and adequacy; (2) lack of support and resources. Participants suggested several strategies to address these concerns including: improving relationships with mental health services, professional development, and developing a greater appreciation for mental health interventions.

Conclusions: There is a clear need for an increased understanding of mental health practices, an improved relationship between general and mental health services and continuing professional development to ensure nurses possess the skills and confidence to provide quality care to children admitted to a paediatric unit with a mental health diagnosis.

Relevance to clinical practice: Few general nurses have mental health training and, through no fault of their own, may be providing less than optimal care to children who are admitted with a mental health diagnosis. Through a desire to improve care, the following participatory action research project was instigated.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Australia
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Clinical Competence*
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Hospital Units
  • Hospitals, General
  • Humans
  • Inpatients / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Mental Disorders / nursing*
  • Needs Assessment
  • Nurse's Role
  • Nurse-Patient Relations
  • Nursing / methods*
  • Nursing / trends
  • Nursing Research
  • Nursing Staff, Hospital / education
  • Nursing Staff, Hospital / organization & administration*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Rural Population
  • Severity of Illness Index