Oxymoronic or Synergistic: Deconstructing the Psychiatric and/or Mental Health Nurse

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Examination of the names used to signify a nurse who specializes in working with people with mental health problems indicates the absence of a shared nomenclature and the frequent conflation of the terms ‘psychiatric’ and ‘mental health’. Informed by the work of Derrida (1978) and Saussure (1916–1983), the authors encourage the deconstruction of and problematization of these terms, and this shows that what nurses who work with people with so-called mental illness are called has depended on where they have worked, the vagaries of passing fashion, and public policy. Further, there are irreconcilable philosophical, theoretical, and clinical positions that prevent nurses from practicing simultaneously as ‘psychiatric’ and ‘mental health’ nurses. Related service user literature indicates that it is disingenuous to camouflage ‘psychiatric’ services as ‘mental health’ services, and as signifiers, signified, and signs, psychiatric and mental health nursing are sustained by political agendas, which do not necessarily prioritize the needs of the person with the illness. Clearly demarked and less disingenuous signs for both mental health and psychiatric care would not only be a more honest approach, but would also be in keeping with the service user literature that highlights the expectation that there are two signs (and thus two services): psychiatric and mental health services.


To acquire a personal use copy of this work, contact John Cutcliffe at john.cutcliffe@wright.edu.



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