Unable to answer the call of our patients: mental health nurses' experience of moral distress

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When health practitioners' moral choices and actions are thwarted by constraints, they may respond with feelings of moral distress. In a Canadian hermeneutic phenomenological study, physicians, nurses, psychologists and non-professional aides were asked to identify care situations that they found morally distressing, and to elaborate on how moral concerns regarding the care of patients were raised and resolved. In this paper, we describe the experience of moral distress related by nurses working in mental healthcare settings who believed that lack of resources (such as time and staff) leads to dispiritedness, lack of respect, and absence of recognition (for both patients and staff) which severely diminished their ability to provide quality care. The metaphors of flashlight and hammer are used to elaborate nurses' possible responses to intolerable situations.

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