• ethics;
  • medical humanities;
  • narratives;
  • philosophy

Accessible summary

  • Contested philosophical, conceptual, social and ethical dimensions of contemporary mental health nursing practice should be addressed in pre-registration educational curricula.
  • By interlinking knowledge and being, educational curricula can encourage students to become ‘critical practitioners’.
  • Issues of students' knowledge, self-awareness and personal development can be promoted via engagement with selected literary texts.


This paper explores themes relevant to mental health nursing using the example of one educational module of a nursing degree. The authors argue that the educational preparation of mental health nursing students in higher education must address certain contested philosophical, conceptual, social and ethical dimensions of contemporary mental health care practice. These themes are discussed within the context of a third-year mental health nursing module within a Scottish nursing degree programme. By interlinking epistemology and ontology, the notion of student as ‘critical practitioner’, involving the encouragement of ‘critical thinking’, is developed. This is shown via engagement with parallel perspectives of the sciences and the humanities in mental health. Narratives of student nurse engagement with selected literary texts demonstrate the extent to which issues of knowledge, self-awareness and personal development are central to a student's professional journey as they progress through an academic course. The paper concludes by suggesting that these ‘critical perspectives’ have important wider implications for curriculum design in nursing education. Insights from critical theory can equip nurse educators to challenge consumerist tendencies within contemporary higher education by encouraging them to remain knowledgeable, critical and ethically sensitive towards the needs of their students.