There is a high prevalence of exposure to traumatic events in childhood among people who have mental health issues. Presentation to the emergency department (ED) can be challenging for these patients because the environment and their experience of care can trigger traumatic memories. Trauma-informed care is an approach to practice that is guided by knowledge of how trauma affects people's lives and their healthcare needs. Despite the increasing prevalence of mental health care delivery in EDs, the level of translation of trauma-informed care into nursing practice in this setting is largely unknown. Therefore, the authors undertook a narrative literature review, the aim of which was to gather evidence relevant to trauma-informed care in the ED and provide guidance on this practice for emergency nurses. Several databases were searched, and the relevant articles found were thematically analysed. Three emergent themes were identified from the literature: an access point for mental health care; staff attitudes; and the ED experience. Emergency nurses need to be aware of the effects of childhood trauma on people presenting with mental health issues and plan their approach to care to avoid potentially re-traumatising patients. © 2020 RCN Publishing Company Ltd. All rights reserved. Not to be copied, transmitted or recorded in any way, in whole or part, without prior permission of the publishers.