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P.I.C.U., H.D.U., A.O.A. What treatment do we provide? Current descriptions of the function of intensive care for inpatient psychiatric health care

Karleen Gwinner (Queensland University Technology, Brisbane, Australia)
Louise Ward (La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia)

Mental Health Review Journal

ISSN: 1361-9322

Article publication date: 23 September 2013




This paper adds to growing research of psychiatric intensive care units (PICU) by recounting descriptions of psychiatric intensive care settings and discusses the perceptions held by nurses of the organisational interfaces, arrangements and provisions of care in these settings.


Data gathered from focus groups held with nurses from two PICUs was used to establish terminology, defining attributes, related concepts, antecedents, values, processes and concepts related to current practices. A literature search was conducted to permit a review of the conceptual arrangements and contemporary understanding of intensive care for people experiencing acute psychiatric illness based on the perspectives held by the nurses from the focus groups.


Dissonance between service needs and the needs and management of individual patients overshadow strategies to implement comprehensive recovery-oriented approaches. Three factors are reported in this paper that influence standards and procedural practice in PICU; organisational structures; physical structures; and subtype nomenclature.

Practical implications

Acute inpatient care is an important part of a comprehensive approach to mental health services. Commonly intensive acute care is delivered in specialised wards or units co-located with acute mental health inpatient units mostly known as PICU. Evidence of the most effective treatment and approaches in intensive care settings that support comprehensive recovery for improved outcomes is nascent.


Current descriptions from nurses substantiate wide variations in the provisions, design and classifications of psychiatric intensive care. Idiosyncratic and localised conceptions of psychiatric intensive care are not adequately entailing effective treatment and methods in support of recovery principles for improved and comprehensive outcomes. The authors suggest that more concrete descriptions, guidelines, training and policies for provision of intensive psychiatric health care encompassing the perspective of nursing professionals, would reinforce conceptual construction and thus optimum treatments within a comprehensive, recovery-oriented approach to mental health services.



The authors wish to thank the nurses at PA District Mental Health Services Logan Hospital & Gold Coast District Mental Health Services for their invaluable contribution and participation in the research.


Gwinner, K. and Ward, L. (2013), "P.I.C.U., H.D.U., A.O.A. What treatment do we provide? Current descriptions of the function of intensive care for inpatient psychiatric health care", Mental Health Review Journal, Vol. 18 No. 3, pp. 128-143.



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