A key gap in current mental health professional training in Africa and globally is an orientation to public mental health. This means an orientation to the mental health needs of populations, and the policies, laws and services that are required to meet those needs. The WHO has highlighted this critical shortage and has put out an urgent call to improve and strengthen professional mental health capacity in Africa [1].

Mental health is frequently marginalised in decision-making for health service resources, partly because mental health professionals lack the skills and information to plan services and to advocate for appropriate resource allocation.  The training offered by the CPMH enables mental health practitioners to take on these responsibilities by providing them with crucial skills to plan and evaluate the services that they deliver and manage; lobby effectively for mental health; and facilitate their leadership role in the strengthening of mental health systems.  The training aims to build on their professional knowledge and increase their capacity in their roles.

The Centre’s capacity-building offering is currently made up of the one year Master of Philosophy (M.Phil) in Public Mental Health.

These M.Phil courses are designed to be accessible to practitioners who work full-time, and who are from a range of backgrounds (social work, psychology, medicine, occupational therapy, nursing, health economics, public mental health, public health, etc) as well as health service managers, policy makers and NGO workers.

Students and Facilitators of First MPhil Class 2012, Stellenbosch University

Based on an inter-disciplinary approach, the courses include inputs from staff from diverse academic backgrounds, including public health, psychiatry, psychology and the social sciences. The courses are focused on the context of African public mental health, and thus draw on the experience of the lecturers and the participants, and all assignments are related to the ongoing work conducted by participants in their respective countries.  In this way we hope to contribute to knowledge generation about low and middle-income countries by scholars of these countries, and graduates are strongly encouraged to publish their work in peer-reviewed journals.

For South African scholars, it should be noted that the training courses do not provide a distinct professional qualification that can be registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA). The intention of the training programme is to enhance the capacities of participants to develop and implement mental health policy using an evidence-based approach and respect for the human rights of people with mental health problems.

The content of the curricula draw substantially but not exclusively on the modules of the WHO Mental Health Policy and Services Guidance Package and associated training materials (http://www.who.int/mental_health/policy/en/), as well as the findings of the UKAID-funded Mental Health and Poverty Project (MHAPP) (http://www.psychiatry.uct.ac.za/mhapp).

The capacity development programmes of the CPMH are groundbreaking in that there are currently no Centres that offer public mental health training and research on the African continent.  We take pride in pioneering this work in Africa, and are confident that our position in the developing world offers a unique training experience.

[1] WHO, 2003, WHO, 2006. Project Atlas: Resources for Mental Health and Neurological Disorders, http://www.who.int/globalatlas