What is known on the subject?
* The concept of compassion is well documented in the healthcare literature but has received limited attention in mental health nursing.
What this paper adds to existing knowledge?
* Mental health nurses struggle with defining compassion. The study, with its limitations, brings greater clarity to the meaning of compassion for community mental health nurses and NHS organizations.
* Mental health nurses need time to reflect on their provision of compassionate care.
What are the implications for practice?
* The study has shown that compassion is important for NHS healthcare management, frontline mental health nurses and policy-makers in UK, and there is potential for sharing practice and vision across NHS organisations.
* Mental health nurses could benefit from training to facilitate their understanding of compassionate practices.
* Emphasis should be placed on the importance of self-compassion and how this can be nurtured from the secure base of clinical supervision.
There is increasing emphasis in policy, research and practice in the UK and internationally on the importance of caring in health care. Compassion needs to be at the core of all healthcare professionals' practice. Recently, health care has received negative attention through media and government reports which cite a lack of compassion in care.
The concept of compassion has received limited attention in community mental health nursing.
Based on data taken from semi-structured interviews with community mental health nurses, this paper aims to describe interpretations and perspectives of compassion to gain insight and development of its meaning.
A naturalistic, interpretive approach was taken to the study. Semi-structured interviews with nine mental health nurses were analysed using Burnard's 14-step model of thematic analysis.
The research illuminates the complexity of compassion and how its practice impacts on emotional responses and relationships with self, patients, colleagues and the employing organization. Participants identified difficulties engaging with compassionate practice whilst recognizing it as a driving force underpinning provision of care. Implications for practice Mental health nurses need to be supported to work towards a greater understanding of compassionate care for clinical practice and the need for self-compassion.