Background. Health care professionals in the United Kingdom (UK) appear to have higher absence and sickness rates than staff in other sectors, and stress may be a reason for nurses leaving their jobs. These problems need to be addressed, particularly in the mental health field, if current service provision is to be maintained.
Aim. The aim was to identify stressors, moderators and stress outcomes (i.e. measures included those related to stress, burnout and job satisfaction) for mental health nurses, as these have clear implications for stress management strategies.
Method. A systematic review of research published in English between 1966 and 2000 and undertaken in the UK that specifically identified participants as mental health nurses was carried out to determine the effectiveness of stress management interventions for those working in mental health nursing. Studies from non-UK countries were examined as potential models of good practice. The study was limited to primary research papers that specifically involved mental health nurses, where the health outcomes measured were stressors, moderators and stress outcomes and where sufficient data was provided.
Results. The initial search identified 176 papers, of these 70 met the inclusion criteria. Seven studies have been reported since the completion of the review and have been included in this article. Sixty-nine focused on the stressors, moderators and stress outcomes and eight papers identified stress management techniques. Relaxation techniques, training in behavioural techniques, stress management workshops and training in therapeutic skills were effective stress management techniques for mental health nurses. Methodological flaws however, were detracted from the rigour of many of the studies.
Conclusions. The review demonstrated that a great deal is known about the sources of stress at work, about how to measure it and about the impact on a range of outcome indicators. What was found to be lacking was a translation of these results into practice, into research that assessed the impact of interventions that attempt to moderate, minimize or eliminate some of these stressors.