More Satisfying Than Factory Work: An Analysis of Mental Health Nursing Using a Print Media Archive
The move towards comprehensive nurse training in Australia thirty years ago continues to trouble many of its mental health nurses. It has been viewed as a failure by many and the profession has been judged by some commentators to have lost its preparedness for specialist care. Discourse put forward to support this negative evaluation usually centres on the recruitment of mental health nurses and a limited interest among student nurses to undertake mental health nursing because of their negative opinions towards it. Emerging from a larger ethnographic research project focused on mental health nursing practice in Australia, this article presents an analysis of the profession's current circumstances using historical print media. As we move further from the era of direct entry, specialist training, the article notes the development of assumptions within the profession. These include the idea that mental health nurses received better training in direct entry, specialist programs, and therefore were better prepared for their specialist roles. The article puts forward a critique that challenges this. The article argues the most profound change faced by the profession is the erosion of the mental health nursing identity in Australia. The loss of the stand-alone hospital system, direct entry specialist training, and specialist professional registration have left mental health nursing with a growing uncertainty about itself as the profession evolves into its (mostly) post-mental institution world. At a time when the specialty of mental health nursing is experiencing serious staff shortages throughout the developed world, the article points to the importance of using historical sources to contextualize our present circumstances.