Master of Philosophy in Public Mental Health


The Alan J. Flisher Centre for Public Mental Health (CPMH), a joint initiative of the Psychology Department at Stellenbosch University and the Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health at the University of Cape Town, is an independent inter-disciplinary academic research and teaching centre for public mental health promotion and service development in Africa.  The CPMH is proud to invite applications from across the African continent for the MPhil in Public Mental Health in 2018.

A key gap in current mental health professional training in South Africa and elsewhere in Africa 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 training offered by the Centre provides clinicians, health service managers, policy makers and NGO workers with crucial skills to enable them to plan and evaluate the services that they deliver and manage; lobby effectively for mental health; take on leadership roles in the strengthening of mental health systems; and conduct research in various aspects of public mental health in Africa.

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, advocate for appropriate resource allocation, and conduct research. The training offered by the Centre would enable them to take on these crucial responsibilities.

The MPhil in Public Mental Health is a part-time research degree that aims to develop advanced research skills, enabling participants to undertake their own research projects (such as evaluating services, policies and interventions) as well as interpret research findings for mental health policy and practice.  The programme is designed to be accessible to practitioners who work full-time, and who are from a range of backgrounds: social work, psychology, psychiatry, medicine, occupational therapy, nursing, health economics, public mental health, public health, health service management, policy making and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).  The training aims to build the professional capacity and leadership of the participants in their work, while contributing to knowledge generation in Africa.

The degree requires:

  • The completion of a 3-week residential training module in research methodology for public mental health in Cape Town; and
  • The preparation of a dissertation of a minimum of 20 000 words, in either monograph or publication ready format.

3-week Residential Training Module in Research Methodology

The course will start with a 3-week residential training session in Cape Town from 22 January – 9 February 2018.  Students will attend lectures, seminars and workshops at the University of Cape Town. The content of the residential training module will be focussed on research methodology for public mental health, and includes an orientation to public mental health, quantitative and qualitative research methods, statistics and epidemiology for mental health, introduction to systematic reviews, and introduction to economic evaluation.

During the residential training session students are also expected to meet with their research supervisors and develop their draft research proposals, which they are required to present to a review panel on Friday 9 February 2018.

Following the residential session, participants will be provided with ongoing support and supervision via e-learning, guiding them through the process of finalising their research proposals, gaining ethics approval for the research, gathering and analysing data for their research, and eventually completing their dissertations. During the course of the 2 years that are required to complete the dissertation, students will be required to attend monthly webinars in their home countries, which will be used to provide additional structured teaching and review research progress.

Public Mental Health Dissertation

The dissertation component aims to provide students with the opportunity to acquire specialised knowledge in a specific area of Public Mental Health. It also provides a practical opportunity for the student to master the research process, which includes selection of a topic; self-driven but supervised investigation; data collection and management; assimilation, analysis, interpretation and critical discussion; understanding and coherent presentation. The dissertation will preferably be related to the ongoing work conducted by participants in their respective countries.  For example, students may choose to evaluate a mental health programme in their own service organization or region.  This would serve the dual function of the development of the student’s research skills and service development, with ongoing support and supervision from the CPMH.

Students are required to successfully complete a dissertation of a minimum of 20 000 words.    The dissertation is examined according to the University’s regulations for the examination of master’s theses as stipulated in the relevant university handbook.  Dissertations will be assessed by two external examiners, from South African academic institutions other than the one at which the student is registered.

Research supervisors employed by the Centre are acknowledged experts in public mental health, with a proven publication record and experience of supervising and mentoring students at Masters level.


Registration is for a minimum of 1 year, and normally the dissertation takes 2 years to complete.  For administrative purposes, students will have to register with one of the collaborating universities i.e. with UCT or Stellenbosch. Candidates should indicate their preference on their application, but as we require an equitable number of students enrolled at each university, we cannot guarantee registration at the University of the student’s choice. The course content and requirements will be the same for both universities. The degree will be awarded by the university at which the student is registered.

Admission Requirements

Candidates for this programme should be in possession of an Honours degree or post-graduate diploma in Public Mental Health or a cognate discipline, on NQF level 8.  In addition, candidates should:

  1. Have experience of working in a mental health, health or development related field for at least three years;
  2. Be employed within a managerial or leadership role, or have the capacity for such a role; and
  3. Show evidence of adequate English language and writing proficiency for postgraduate academic studies.

Please Note:

  • A research programme of this nature requires dedicated time and the ability to work independently. You will require a minimum of 10 hours per week on average to complete the dissertation. Please consider this carefully before applying.
  • The MPhil in Public Mental Health does not lead to a professional qualification that can be registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa.

Selection Process

Admission to the programme is highly competitive, and is based primarily on academic merit and potential to contribute to mental health development in under-served areas in Africa. A rigorous selection process will be engaged in to identify the candidates who are most likely to successfully complete the degree within the prescribed period. In addition to the written application, short-listed applicants may be requested to attend a teleconference interview.


Applications for 2018 has now closed. A new call for applications for study in 2019 will be opened mid 2018. If you would like to communicate with us regarding a future application, please contact Prof Katherine Sorsdahl at

A standard application should consist of the following:

  • Completed application form
  • 3-page research proposal (see format)
  • 2 referee reports (unless these are to be submitted directly by your referees. Please refer to guidelines on the referee form).
  • Certified copies of original academic transcripts
  • Photograph
  • Signed declaration
  • An example of your own academic writing skills such as an article written by you. (Please do not submit a co-authored paper as we require an example of your writing skills).

Please do not include any additional material (such as a separate CV) in your application package. Provision has been made on the application form for all information required for the selection process.

Upon selection, students will be given additional information related to their registering university (such as information related to fees, registration, accommodation, financial assistance, etc), as well as more detailed information about the course.