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Ethics of Researching Mental Health Issues

Ethics is a discipline of philosophy that deals with decision-making processes and helps in determining what is right or what is wrong. When doing academic research, it is prudent that one looks into the researcher’s values, study population, and the social importance of the community. The ethics of research should be included in the daily works, protection of the subjects under study, and how the data provided will be anonymous and protected after it is obtained.

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When nurses are doing research, they are bound to accommodate the three-value structure that is made up of the community, science, and nursing as a profession. The community values include human rights, the culture of caring in the nursing profession, and what the individual researcher wants to gain from the inquiry (Greaney et al., 2017). The values might be conflicting with the actual values of those being studied, the society, and the community at large something that can lead to tension and problems in the field of nursing.

In this essay, the various ethical considerations will be examined, and their effects on research determined. The paper will look into; the social and clinical value of the study, that is if the research is scientifically valid, fair sampling is done, conducive risk to benefit ratio is observed, an independent review of the study, consent, and respect for potential and current subjects in the research. The development of ethical codes started developing in the eighteenth century after several cases of human exploitation were recorded during human research and experimentation.

In the field of nursing, the earliest attempt to govern how research should be done was during the “Nightingale Pledge” of 1983 and after this, there have been significant strides in the development of the codes of conduct for research. Among the regulating bodies include the American Nurses Association (ANA) that gave rules to be followed regarding research studies, human rights protocols to be observed by nurses in clinics as well as those in a study (1985), and the codes developed for nurses in research in 1977 by The Royal College of Nursing (Greaney et al., 2017). All these codes give strong guidance to professionals in nursing who are either practicing or doing research. The regulations also provide the subjects or patients an assurance of what the nurses and the researchers are doing.

Informed consent is the most critical ethical consideration when doing any type of research. Armiger, 2019 defined informed consent as the act of the subject knowingly, unpersuaded, wisely and in a precise manner give their permission to be included in the research. It is through informed consent that the subject’s or patient’s autonomy is guarded. Informed consent consists of the right to be autonomous through personal determination. It also ensures there is no assault on the integrity of the patient and guarantees the safety of personal freedom.

The subjects in the research are supposed to accept to be part of the research by giving consent out of a free will, the consent should come after the participants have been given all the details of the study, such details should include the risks they might take while in the study and the possible benefits. Other details may include the compensation plan in case a participant suffers negative effects from the study (Armiger, 2019)

Finally, room for withdrawal must be given to the subjects just in case they do not wish to continue with the research. This is their right even though it might interfere with the investigation if it was at advanced stages and many subjects decide to withdraw.

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The risk to benefit ratio is also another aspect of the ethical considerations that can be considered when doing research. This principle can also be referred to as Beneficence which means it has to be of benefit and not harm the subjects. This principle is hard to predict because the actual study has not been done. In most cases, the researchers refer to existing studies that are similar and related and use them to come up with the benefit-risk ratio. According to Carr, 2018, if the research findings are not beneficial as anticipated, it can raise great ethical concerns for nurses. Therefore, the researcher should be sensitive to what can cause harm because it can be physical, psychological, emotional, economic, and social which at times might be hard to identify.

Another ethical issue to be considered is the confidentiality of the subject’s information; this is clearly stated in the Hippocratic oath. This can be an issue of concern between both the researchers and the nurses during their practice. The ICN code of nurse’s clause 10 insists that all information acquired from the patients should remain a secret apart from when it is needed in court or if the disclosure of such information serves the best interest of the medical fraternity and the society at large (Carr, 2018). The researcher should ensure the data is autonomous and it should not lead to the identification of the subjects by a third person.

In conclusion, it is clear how the ethical issues, ambiguity in making decisions, and the conflict of interest keep emerging during research in nursing. This is caused by a lack of clear guidelines in the ethical issues that the nurses should consider so as not to violate human rights. This will go a long way in protecting the researchers’ values, the patients’ values as well as social values. The professional codes of conduct, the law, regulations, and the various committees should provide guidance and give the final direction on how the research should be done.


Armiger, S. B. (2019). Ethics of nursing research: profile, principles, perspective. Nursing Research, 26(5), 330-336.

Carr, L. T. (2018). The strengths and weaknesses of quantitative and qualitative research: what method for nursing? Journal of Advanced Nursing, 20(4), 716–721. Web.

Greaney, A.-M., Sheehy, A., Heffernan, C., Murphy, J., Mhaolrúnaigh, S. N., Heffernan, E., & Brown, G. (2017). Research ethics application: a guide for the novice researcher. British Journal of Nursing, 21(1), 38–43. Web.

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