New research violence in Mental Health - research project reveals shocking results

New, groundbreaking research produced by the Health and Community Services Union in conjunction with the University of Melbourne's Centre for Psychiatric Nursing has produced a damning picture of an unsafe, high-risk environment in Victoria’s mental health services.


The research shows mental health workers are more likely to be physically attacked than in any other occupation - three times more likely than a police officer. Some of the key points unearthed by the research project show:

  • 34% of staff have been physically assaulted in the last 12 months, many of these staff have been physically assaulted several times in that period. Violence is being inflicted equally on both male and female staff.
  • 83% of staff have been victims of some form of violence in the last 12 months.
  • 50% of staff have experienced 4 or more episodes of physical violence during their working lives.
  • In the last 12 months 81% of staff have been verbally assaulted (many on a daily basis):
    • 14% have been racially attacked and 7% sexually.
    • 31% of staff report being bullied.
    • 32% of staff say they are exhibiting forms of psychological stress. Of these, 55% report severe psychological distress.
    • 58% of staff report they are worried about violence in the workplace.
    • 90% of staff who have distress have had to take sick leave.
  • There is a clear cumulative impact of psychological distress the longer staff work in mental health services.
  • 11% report there is no encouragement to report violence

There is also evidence that violence continues to grow, with a higher level of violence recorded in the last 6 months.
HACSU State Secretary, Lloyd Williams, says the joint HACSU/University of Melbourne research project lifts the lid on a truly appalling situation.

“One in three mental health workers can expect to be physically attacked over a 12 month period. It is an absolute disgrace."

"I wonder what would happen if 34% of politicians were physically attacked every year. We would have a state of emergency declared and the army would be called in.”

“Mental health workers in Victoria today face the perfect storm. There is growing demand for mental health services, with more patients presenting at a higher acuity.”

“Staff are also being required to make a huge transition, with the new Mental Health Act and new practices demanding reduced restrictive interventions, reduced seclusions and reduced medications.”

“This would be fine if there were more staff and improved training. But, in fact, there's been wide-spread service cutbacks across Victoria and no dedicated mental health training budget.”

“We have identified the abolition of, or serious cuts to, more than 20 different mental health services across Victoria.”

"When the Coalition Government came to power they abandoned the existing Mental Health Workforce Plan which addressed staff shortages, training and OH&S issues, and promised a new plan. No Mental Health Workforce Plan has subsequently been produced."

“The results are now there for all to see, and it is coming at a great cost to mental health workers lives, including both their physical and mental wellbeing.”

“The Napthine Government and Minister Mary Wooldridge should be ashamed of what they have done.”

The research conducted by the University of Melbourne covered 384 randomly selected participants across all mental health occupations, a spread of ages and including participants in metropolitan and regional Victoria.

The survey instrument was based on the United Nation’s World Health Organisation’s program on workplace violence in the health sector.