Violent oppression: implications for mental health priorities in South Africa

Med Law. 1994;13(1-2):193-203.


This study explores the complex nature of mental health challenges and priorities in a post-apartheid South Africa. Special reference is made to indigenous people's experiences of poverty, racism, sexism and the machinery of political repression as critical bases for determining the priorities in mental health services. Whilst the provision of mental health services for all is sought by mental health professionals and legal systems in Western countries and other African states, South Africa has not developed a coherent sociolegal policy which aims at preventing, alleviating and healing mental health problems for all its citizens. Research gathered through a phenomenological approach amongst the oppressed seeks to define the terrain of people's psychological problems. Although data used are deduced mainly from the 'oppressed' on one white owned farm, questions raised and conclusions drawn address national as opposed to regional solutions, and also facilitate thinking about mental health priorities for all South Africans living under similar conditions. Commonly experienced problems are the effects of organized violence, child and adolescent problems, the prevalence of alcohol and drug use, depression, lack of facilities for the disabled and psychological care for homeless children, families and the youth. Participants were ignorant about mental health services, they experienced them as inaccessible and they were generally suspicious of an lacked faith in mental health workers. The author proposes broad future mental health options, like the restoration of family life in oppressed communities, the training of lay counsellors and the introduction of community mental health programmes. A suggestion is made that health workers in community mental health centres should adopt an advocacy position against all forms of unfair practices and violence and lobby for the protection of human rights.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Attitude to Health
  • Child
  • Community Mental Health Centers
  • Health Policy
  • Health Priorities*
  • Humans
  • Lobbying
  • Mental Health*
  • Patient Advocacy
  • Politics
  • Prejudice*
  • Social Change
  • South Africa
  • Violence*