Background: There has been an increase of reports describing mental health problems in adolescents, especially girls. School nurses play an important role in supporting young people with health problems. Few studies have considered how the nurses’ gender norms may influence their discussions.
Methods: To investigate this issue, semi-structured interviews focusing on school nurses’ work with students who have mental health problems were conducted. Transcripts of interviews with Swedish school nurses (n = 15) from the Help overcoming pain early project (HOPE) were analysed using theories on gender as a theoretical framework and then organised into themes related to the school nurses’ provision of contact and intervention. The interviewees were all women, aged between 42–63 years, who had worked as nurses for 13–45 years, and as school nurses for 2–28 years. Five worked in upper secondary schools (for students aged 16–19) and 10 in secondary schools (for students aged 12–16).
Results: The results show that school nurses more commonly associated mental health problems with girls. When the school nurses discussed students that were difficult to reach, boys in particular were mentioned. However, very few nurses mentioned specific intervention to address students’ mental health problems, and all of the mentioned interventions were focused on girls. Some of the school nurses reported that it was more difficult to initiate a health dialogue with boys, yet none of the nurses had organized interventions for the boys.
Conclusions: We conclude that generalisations can sometimes be analytically helpful, facilitating, for instance, the identification of problems in school nurses’ work methods and interventions. However, the most important conclusion from our research, which applied a design that is not commonly used, is that more varied approaches, as well as a greater awareness of potential gender stereotype pitfalls, are necessary to meet the needs of diverse student groups.
2016. Vol. 16, 451