• mental health nursing;
  • risk assessment;
  • risk management;
  • diagnosis deconstruction

Rationale.  Risk assessment and management have a taken a central position in the delivery of contemporary mental health services. However, these concepts are generally taken-for-granted as necessary and unavoidable aspects of mental health nursing practice. This deconstructive analysis explores some of the assumptions and values that underpin these concepts.

Aims.  The aims of the study were to provide a deconstructive analysis of the concepts of risk and risk management, and to explore the historical context of mental disorder and the concept of risk, the clinical context of risk assessment and management, the cultural, political and economic context of risk, and the impact on mental health nursing and consumers of mental health services.

Design.  This paper takes a deconstructive approach to the exploration of the historical, clinical, cultural, political and economic context of the concept of risk and its assessment and management. This is undertaken by providing a critical review of the history of mental illness and its relationship to risk, examination of government policy on clinical risk management, analysis of a risk assessment model and a discussion of the political and economic factors that have influenced the use of risk assessment and mangement in clinical practice.

Findings.  The concept of risk and its assessment and management have been employed in the delivery of mental health services as a form of contemporary governance. One consequence of this has been the positioning of social concerns over clinical judgement. The process employed to assess and manage risk could be regarded as a process of codification, commodification and aggregation. In the mental health care setting this can mean attempting to control the actions and behaviours of consumers and clinicians to best meet the fiscal needs of the organization.

Conclusion.  The mental health nursing profession needs to examine carefully its socially mandated role as guardians of those who pose a risk to others to ensure that its practice represents its espoused therapeutic responsibilities.