Nurses play a crucial role in the implementation of restrictive practices such as seclusion and restraint. Restrictive practices have been widely recognized as harmful practices and efforts to reduce their use have been in place for several years. While some reductions have been achieved, more information and insight into the perspectives and experiences of front‐line mental health nursing staff is required if further changes are to be realized. Sixty‐five respondents participated in an online survey to investigate Australian mental health nurses’ personal experiences and opinions regarding restrictive practices. Analysis revealed restrictive practices as a complex, contested and challenging area of practice. Analysis of data revealed five main ways that restrictive practices were framed by respondents. These were as follows: as a response to fear; to maintain safety for all; a legacy of time and place; the last resort; and, a powerful source of occupational distress. In addition, findings revealed the need to support staff involved in restrictive practices. This need could be satisfied through the implementation of procedures to address post‐restrictive distress at all levels of the organization. Ensuring an optimal work environment that includes appropriate staffing, availability of supportive education and structured routine debriefing of all episodes of restrictive practice is critical in achieving further reductions in seclusion and restraint.