Noroviruses are an important aetiological agent of acute gastroenteritis. They are responsible for large outbreaks of disease in the community, hospitals and long-term-care facilities. The clinical manifestations of norovirus outbreaks in psychiatric units are rarely described. The disease burden and impact highlight the importance of timely notification and investigation of these outbreaks. We analysed the characteristics of four norovirus outbreaks which occurred during a 3-year period in an in-patient psychiatric care unit. A total of 184 patients were affected which included 172 hospitalized patients, seven healthcare workers (HCWs) and five psychiatric nursing-home residents. The mean incidence rate of norovirus gastroenteritis (NVG) in hospitalized patients during these outbreaks was 12·7%. These outbreaks were characterized by higher incidence in middle-aged male patients, predominant sickness of diarrhoea, short duration of illness, peaks in late winter and early spring, and higher susceptibility in acute psychiatric patients. HCWs had longer duration of illness than psychiatric patients. More than 10% of affected patients experienced ⩾2 infections. Infection control measures were instituted and a comprehensive, responsive standard operating procedure for NVG and outbreak management was developed. After implementation of these measures, no further outbreaks of NVG occurred during the study period.