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Operating safely in a mental health setting

As a student about to commence a placement in a mental health setting, you may be concerned about how to ensure your safety. People with a mental illness have historically been portrayed with a stigma of violence and aggression. Today, while there are many initatives to remove the stigma associated with mental illness (2, 3, 4), there are still some sources that reinforce this stigma. Stigma is harmful, and can cause feelings of shame, blame and distress (1).

The reality of the situation is much different to how people with a mental illness have been historically portrayed. Research has demonstrated that (as cited in SANE Australia: Reducing Stigma):

  • People with mental illness are far more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators of it.

  • Most people receiving treatment for mental illness are no more violent that the general population.

  • Most people who commit violent acts do not have a mental illness.

  • Violent acts by people with a mental illness are usually associated with a minority who are not receiving effective treatment, who have a history of violence or abuse alcohol and other drugs.


However, sometimes people who are admitted to an acute hospital unit have been admitted because they are a risk of harm to themselves or others. For that reason, it is important that as a student you understand how you can operate safely within a mental health ward, to protect yourself, others around you and the consumers you are working with.


The safety of staff and consumers is of paramount importance in a mental health setting. Each mental health ward will have its own operating procedures to keep staff and others safe. These will be explained to you on your first day of placement. While you are on placement, there are other methods you can use to ensure you are operating safely in a mental health setting.


For more information on stigma and mental health, please click here. Below you will find two strategies you can use while on placement to assist you to operate safely and effectively.




















  1. Mental Health Comission, Government of Western Australia (2010) Mental Illness & Health Available from: (accessed on 23/11/2015)

  2. Sane Australia (2015) Reducing Stigma                                                                       Available from: (accessed on 23/11/2015)

  3. Mental Health Foundation of Australia (Victoria) (2015)  Fight Stigma                         Available from: (accessed on 23/11/2015)

  4. Suicide Prevention Australia (2015) Stigma and Suicide                                             Available from: (accessed on 23/11/2015)

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