Nursing students’ depiction of mental disorder

José Carlos Marques Carvalho (Escola Superior de Enfermagem do Porto, Porto, Portugal) (CINTESIS – Center for Research in Health Technologies and Health Services, Porto, Portugal)
Cláudia Mara Melo Tavares (Department of Maternal-Infant and Psychiatric Nursing, Aurora Nursing School of Afonso Costa, Universidade Federal Fluminense, Niteroi, Brazil)

The Journal of Mental Health Training, Education and Practice

ISSN: 1755-6228

Publication date: 11 September 2017



Fighting the stigma of mental disorder is the core focus of nursing teachers closely working with mental health institutions and patients. The sharing of experiences calls attention to common motivations and concerns leading researchers to explore this universal phenomenon. The purpose of this paper is to evaluate the symbolic representation of mental disorder by undergraduate nursing students and to develop an instrument that contributes to reduce stigma.


Cross-cultural study, using a quantitative and qualitative analysis and of descriptive and exploratory nature, on the categorization of drawings made by undergraduate nursing students in Brazil and Portugal – to graphically represent mentally ill patients. The research was performed throughout a period of two school years, involving a total of 187 students. All ethical recommendations were considered.


Approximately, 50 different symbols were identified and sorted into categories. The most representative ones were “Interrogation” and “The World.” The study makes noteworthy contributions to raise awareness and enhance understanding on how future nursing graduates experience and perceive mental disorder.


Despite the cultural differences and geographical distance of participants, the study revealed similarities on how mental disorder is perceived. Students have still a little knowledge of new practices, of the profound changes in psychiatry and the major efforts of all mental health professionals to fight social exclusion of mentally ill persons. Drawing is a powerful educational tool to understand how people, namely, nursing students, feel and respond to mental illness.



Carvalho, J. and Tavares, C. (2017), "Nursing students’ depiction of mental disorder", The Journal of Mental Health Training, Education and Practice, Vol. 12 No. 5, pp. 323-330.

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