• Clinical placements in mental health nursing impact students’ attitudes toward mental illness.
• Community placed students demonstrate greater positive attitudes towards mental illness.
• Clinical facilitator views about mental illness impact on student attitudes.
Student nurses maintain unfavorable views of people with mental health issues. Many continue to perpetuate common stereotypes, are fearful and believe people with mental health problems are in some way dangerous. The impact of placements greatly affects these views. A pre-post survey of 85 student nurses was conducted to establish the opinions and attitudes of student nurses regarding mental health. Groups were allocated to either community or hospital placements. Each group received the same educational preparation prior to placement. Both community and hospital placed students had improved clinical confidence when working with people experiencing mental health problems. Community placed students demonstrated greater positive attitudes towards people experiencing mental health issues across a number of domains. Students in hospital settings demonstrated more confidence when working with people with mental health issues yet had less attitudinal change about mental health. The approach taken by clinical facilitators also influenced student attitudes. It is suggested that offering community opportunities along with exposure to positive instructor beliefs about mental illness will both improve student attitudes prior to the completion of their nursing studies and may encourage entry into mental health as a nursing option post-education.