African Journal of Psychiatry

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The Mental Health Care Act No 17 – South Africa. Trials and triumphs: 2002-2012

S Ramlall


The Mental Health Care Act 17 of 2002(MHCA) was promulgated in 2004. It has been hailed as one of the most progressive pieces of mental health legislation. A true measure of its merit is the degree to which it has transformed mental health services and in particular improved the quality of care. This paper will describe the impact of the Act on mental health care service delivery in the country. Literature pertaining to the MHCA published from 2006-2012, a report compiled by the South African Society of Psychiatrists and the results of a national survey conducted among Heads of Departments of Psychiatry, Mental Health Review Boards and Provincial Directors of Mental Health was reviewed. The MHCA has been successful in shifting the emphasis of care from psychiatric institutions to general hospitals. However, the integration of services has been hampered by infrastructure constraints and shortages of mental health personnel. It has been less successful in integrating mental health care into primary
health services where the focus remains largely on the pharmacological maintenance treatment of the chronically mentally ill. Little attention has been given to the health promotion, disease prevention and rehabilitation aspects of care. Mental health review boards contend with limited resources, administrative challenges and limited political support. Isolated pockets of success characterised the implementation of the MHCA across the country. Greater investment of resources is needed to ensure the
comprehensive implementation of the Act.
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