Leaving it at the gate: Phenomenological exploration of resilience in mental health nurses in a high secure personality disorder unit

Carol Ann Rooney*, Michelle Pyer, Jackie Campbell

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticlepeer-review


Aims & design:
This study reports a qualitative phenomenological investigation of resilience in nursing staff working in a high secure personality disorder service.

Interviews were carried with six nursing staff, and these captured the richness and complexity of the lived experience of nursing staff.

Four superordinate themes emerged from the analysis: Management of emotions: participants showed an awareness that their job is about giving care to patients who may present with very challenging behaviours. The care that they offered appeared to be conceptualised as something that needed to be provided in a measured way, with boundaries. A clear distinction was drawn between ‘caring personally’ for patients, and ‘providing care’. Teamwork: teamwork was cited as a major influencing factor by all participants. This was seen as directly impacting on the smooth running of the ward, and therefore on the wellbeing of staff, but also of patients. Understanding: staff were acutely aware that they were working in an environment where everyday interactions would be open to intense scrutiny and possible misinterpretation by patients. Work-life balance: All participants spoke of making a conscious effort to have a separate work and home life, which appeared to be influenced by a number of factors.

There was an acknowledgment of the emotional labour of the work, and discussions about how they managed within this demonstrated an emotionally intelligent approach to their own health, wellbeing and resilience.

In secure environments mental health nurses need organisational support and assistance to develop ways of managing difficult experiences with patients, systems that promote recovery, and the educational and supervisory support to help understand and process the effects on them. This paper provides evidence to support the work of managers and clinicians in these environments
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Advanced Nursing
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 28 Oct 2023


  • personality disorder
  • emptional labour
  • mental health nursing
  • forensic
  • phenomenology
  • reilience


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