Psychiatric Hospital Workers’ Exposure to Disturbing Patient Behavior and Its Relation to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms [2017]

About 10% of health-care workers experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); the rate is higher among workers exposed to aggression.

We extended this research by examining PTSD and exposure to violence and other disturbing patient behaviors, among nursing and other staff on inpatient psychiatric units (forensic and nonforensic).

Surveys were completed online or in person by 219 respondents (30% response rate). Participants indicated which disturbing behaviors they had been exposed to and ranked the worst three behaviors in each of three categories: most unpleasant to work with, most disruptive to patient care, and most upsetting. Most (n = 192) also completed the PTSD Checklist (PCL).

All but two participants reported exposure to at least one disturbing behavior and ranked violence, feces smearing, and screaming constantly as the worst experiences overall. On the PCL, 24% scored above the cut off for probable PTSD. Nursing staff had the highest scores, with no difference between nursing staff on forensic versus nonforensic units. PCL score showed a small positive correlation with the number of disturbing behaviors experienced.

PTSD symptoms are common among psychiatric hospital workers, not only nursing staff. Future research using clinical assessment, longitudinal designs, and measurement of nonviolent disturbing behaviors is recommended.

N. Zoe Hilton, Elke Ham, Alecia Dretzkat
Canadian Journal of Nursing Research, Vol 49, Issue 3, 2017