City Research Online

Mental health and subjective wellbeing in UK mental health nurses

Oates, Jennifer (2016). Mental health and subjective wellbeing in UK mental health nurses. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


This study explores the subjective wellbeing and subjective experience of mental health problems in UK mental health nurses using a mixed methods approach. It aimed to understand the relationships between mental health nurses' own mental health and their subjective wellbeing, and to explore the ways in which mental health nurses managed their own mental health and wellbeing and how they negotiated for and use their experiences both within and outside of their work.

The mixed methods design had two phases. In phase one an online survey was sent to mental health nurses via their national professional bodies, the Royal College of Nursing and the Mental Health Nurses Association. The survey comprised three measures of subjective wellbeing, questions about personal and familial mental health history and questions about the impact of these experiences on mental health nursing work. 237 survey responses were included in the final statistical analysis. In the second phase 27 semi structured interviews were undertaken with a purposive sample of survey respondents who had both subjective experience of mental health problems and high subjective wellbeing.

A major finding of the study was that mental health nurses critically appraised their experience of delivering and receiving mental health care from the expert perspectives of both being a nurse and having their own experience of mental ill health.

Personal experience of mental illness was found to influence nursing practice in a number of ways: first, through overt disclosure and negotiation of professional boundaries; second, through the ‘use of the self as a tool’, the emotional labour of nursing; third, through the formation and development of professional nursing identity. This was in the context of a broader canvas of life experiences which participants considered to influence the development of their nursing identity, the use of self and self disclosure in their work.

Mental health nurses in this study had a relatively low subjective wellbeing. Low subjective wellbeing was associated with having current mental health problems, and with having past experience of mental health problem. Personal experience of living with someone with mental health problems was associated with relatively higher subjective wellbeing.

This study has implications for occupational health and human resources policy within healthcare organisations. The findings suggest that mental health nurses who present to primary care or occupational health services should be offered care and treatment commensurate with their expertise and experience. Employers’ ‘staff happiness strategies’ and occupational health promotion activities should address work life balance and what nurses could do outside of their work to be well, as well as addressing the effects that team and management changes have on staff wellbeing.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: R Medicine > RT Nursing
Departments: Doctoral Theses
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > School of Health & Psychological Sciences Doctoral Theses
[thumbnail of Oates, Jennifer (redacted).pdf]
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[thumbnail of Oates, Jennifer Vol 2 (redacted).pdf]
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