Journal of Child and Adolescent Mental Health

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Child and adolescent mental health in South Africa

Alan J Flisher, Andrew Dawes, Zuhayr Kafaar, Crick Lund, Katherine Sorsdahl, Bronwyn Myers, Rita Thom, Soraya Seedat


Mental health problems in childhood and adolescence pose a major threat to public health. Epidemiological studies in high, middle and low income countries indicate that approximately one in five children and adolescents suffer from a mental disorder. In many instances these persist into adulthood. In South Africa, HIV infection, substance use, and exposure to violence increase vulnerability to mental disorders. Child and adolescent mental health services play a key role in reducing the burden of mental disorders in childhood and later in adulthood. This paper focuses on service needs for children and adolescents in South Africa. It commences with a discussion of the prevalence of child and adolescent psychiatric disorders after which the legal and policy context of child and adolescent psychiatric services is described. A framework for child and adolescent mental health service provision is presented, following which steps for reducing the extent of unmet service need are considered. The paper concludes with a call to scale up child and adolescent mental health services in South Africa, based on the stark realities of unmet need and the constitutional rights of children and adolescents to appropriate mental health care.

Journal of Child & Adolescent Mental Health 2012, 24(2): 149–161
AJOL African Journals Online