Original articles

Mental health service delivery in South Africa from 2000 to 2010: One step forward, one step back

Inge Petersen, Crick Lund


Objectives. To identify progress and challenges in mental healthcare in South Africa, as well as future mental health services research priorities.
Method. A systematic review of mental health services research. Literature searches were conducted in Medline, PsychInfo and Sabinet databases from January 2000 to October 2010 using key phrases. Hand searches of key local journals were also conducted. Of 215 articles retrieved, 92 were included. Data were extracted onto a spreadsheet and analysed thematically.
Results. While progress in epidemiological studies has been good, there is a paucity of intervention and economic evaluation studies. The majority of studies reviewed were on the status of mental healthcare services. They indicate some progress in decentralised care for severe mental disorders, but also insufficient resources to adequately support community-based services, resulting in the classic revolving-door phenomenon. Common mental disorders remain largely undetected and untreated in primary healthcare. Cross-cutting issues included the need for promoting culturally congruent services as well as mental health literacy to assist in improving help-seeking behaviour, stigma reduction, and reducing defaulting and human rights abuses.
Conclusion. While there has been some progress in the decentralisation of mental health service provision, substantial gaps in service delivery remain. Intervention research is needed to provide evidence of the organisational and human resource mix requirements, as well as cost-effectiveness of a culturally appropriate, task shifting and stepped care approach for severe and common mental disorders at primary healthcare level.

Authors' affiliations

Inge Petersen, University of KwaZulu-Natal

Crick Lund, University of Cape Town

Full Text



mental health services, research review, South Africa

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2011;101(10):751-757.

Article History

Date submitted: 2011-02-24
Date published: 2011-09-28

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