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The attitudes of undergraduate nursing students towards mental health nursing: a systematic review

Authors

  • Brenda Happell MEd, PhD, RN,

    Director, Corresponding author
    • Institute for Health and Social Science Research, Central Queensland University, Institute for Health and Social Science Research, Centre for Mental Health Nursing Innovation and School of Nursing and Midwifery, Central Queensland University, Rockhampton, Qld, Australia
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  • Cadeyrn J Gaskin BBS, MBS, PhD

    1. Gaskin Research, Melbourne, Vic, Australia
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Correspondence: Brenda Happell, Director, Institute for Health and Social Science Research, Central Queensland University, Institute for Health and Social Science Research, Centre for Mental Health Nursing Innovation and School of Nursing and Midwifery, Central Queensland University, Bruce Hwy, Rockhampton, Qld 4702, Australia. Telephone: +61 07 49232164.

E-mail: b.happell@cqu.edu.au

Abstract

Aims and objectives

To present the findings of a systematic review on (1) the attitudes of undergraduate nursing students towards mental health nursing and (2) the influence of undergraduate nursing education on the attitudes of undergraduate nursing students towards mental health nursing.

Background

Recruitment and retention of mental health nurses is challenging. Undergraduate nursing students' attitudes towards mental health nursing may influence whether they choose to practice in this specialty upon graduation.

Design

A systematic review.

Method

Searches of the CINAHL, MEDLINE and PsycINFO electronic databases returned 1400 records, of which 17 met the inclusion criteria for this review. A further four papers were obtained through scanning the reference lists of those articles included from the initial literature search.

Results

Research on the attitudes of undergraduate nursing students towards mental health nursing has consistently shown that mental health is one of the least preferred areas of nursing for a potential career. With respect to the influence of undergraduate nursing education on the attitudes of students towards mental health nursing, quasi-experimental studies have generally demonstrated that students tended to have more favourable attitudes towards mental health nursing when they had received more hours of theoretical preparation and undertaken longer clinical placements.

Conclusion

Many nursing students regard mental health nursing as the least preferred career option. Education, via classroom teaching and clinical placements, seems to engender more positive attitudes towards mental health nursing. There is no evidence, however, that changing student attitudes results in more graduates beginning careers in mental health nursing.

Reference to clinical practice

The constancy of negative attitudes to mental health nursing over time suggests the focus of research should shift. Clinicians have the capacity to promote a more positive view of mental health nursing. This requires further exploration.

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