Journal Article

Understanding the local context for the application of global mental health: a rural South African experience

Stine Hellum Braathen, Richard Vergunst, Gubela Mji, Hasheem Mannan and Leslie Swartz

in International Health

Published on behalf of Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene

Volume 5, issue 1, pages 38-42
Published in print March 2013 | ISSN: 1876-3413
Published online March 2013 | e-ISSN: 1876-3405 | DOI:
Understanding the local context for the application of global mental health: a rural South African experience

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The global mental health movement has supplied ample evidence of treatment gaps for mental health care in low and middle-income countries. It is also clear that substantial progress has been made in developing an evidence base for innovative treatments which have been shown to work. It is only through rich and detailed understandings of local contexts and individual experiences that the challenges global mental health faces can be fully appreciated.


In this article, we use a single, qualitative case study from one context and of one family affected by mental disorder. This is to elucidate core issues which we regard as key to further developments in the global mental health agenda.


Core issues are poor mental health literacy, transport and lack of outreach, limitations of formal health care, challenges at the interface with indigenous health care and lack of follow-up and rehabilitation.


We propose shifting the focus of mental health care from cure to promotion and prevention, using an interdisciplinary team of lay and trained health workers from the professional, folk and popular sectors. The challenges are complex, as this small study shows, but it is only by looking closely at local conditions that it is possible to develop interventions which are contextually appropriate and make optimal use of local resources.

Keywords: Mental disorder; Mental health service; Rural; Poverty; South Africa; Community mental health

Journal Article.  3790 words. 

Subjects: Community Medical Services

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