- • Verbal aggression is a common feature of life on a psychiatric ward.
- • This study reports on how frequently patients were involved in incidents of verbal abuse, shouting, making threats, showing anger or making racist comments.
- • Verbally aggressive patients tended to have a history of violence or drug misuse, but some patient characteristics were more strongly associated with particular types of verbal aggression.
Verbally aggressive behaviour on psychiatric wards is more common than physical violence and can have distressing consequences for the staff and patients who are subjected to it. Previous research has tended to examine incidents of verbal aggression in little detail, instead combining different types of aggressive behaviour into a single measure. This study recruited 522 adult psychiatric inpatients from 84 acute wards. Data were collected from nursing and medical records for the first 2 weeks of admission. Incidents of verbal aggression were categorized and associations with patient characteristics examined. There were 1398 incidents of verbal aggression in total, reported for half the sample. Types of verbal aggression were, in order of prevalence: abusive language, shouting, threats, expressions of anger and racist comments. There were also a large number of entries in the notes which did not specify the form of verbal aggression. Staff members were the most frequent target of aggression. A history of violence and previous drug use were consistently associated with verbal aggression. However, there were also some notable differences in patient variables associated with specific types of verbal aggression. Future studies should consider using multidimensional measures of verbal aggression.