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Staff shortages, high workloads, acutely unwell patients and verbal and physical aggression top the biggest triggers of workplace stress for Victorian mental health nurses, according to a new study.

Undertaken by Australian Catholic University (ACU) and published in the International Journal of Mental Health Nursing, the study determined that high rates of stress among mental health nurses is having serious implications on workforce attrition as the sector faces a projected national shortage of 18,500 nurses by 2030.

Lead author Professor Kim Foster, who heads ACU’s Mental Health Nursing Research Unit in partnership with NorthWestern Mental Health at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, said mental health nurses experience some of the most significant stress at work in the country.

“There is a critical national shortage of nurses in mental health and attrition of the mental health nursing workforce is due in large part to workplace stressors,” Professor Foster said.

“Workplace stress needs to be an urgent priority for governments, industrial organisations, the profession and mental health services. Assertive measures need to be taken to reduce these stressors, and to strengthen nurses’ wellbeing and resilience.”

The findings confirm the need for state-wide initiatives to reduce occupational violence and mental health service initiatives to improve the safety and wellbeing of both patients and staff, she added.

Professor Foster has been awarded a $317,500 Australian Research Council Linkage grant to tackle the workforce issues and will conduct a large-scale trial of a workplace resilience program with nurses from NorthWestern Mental Health.

The project is aiming to improve the resilience of mental health nurses, retention and the quality of practice through the implementation of a resilience-building program.

Project partners include resilience program developers at the Queensland University of Technology and the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF Vic Branch), the Department of Health and Human Services Victoria, the Health and Community Services Union Victoria, NorthWestern Mental Health, Melbourne Health and researchers from Monash University and the University of Technology Sydney.

Click here to read the study.