Pretoria - District mental health services in the City of Tshwane have strengthened considerably following a collaboration between the Tshwane District mental health services and the University of Pretoria’s Occupational Therapy Department.
Through this collaboration, the Occupational Therapy Department at UP and the district specialist mental health teams are providing more sustainable community-centred mental health services and support as well as training community health workers, community members and other stakeholders.
In response to the 2016 Life Esidimeni tragedy in which 144 people died at psychiatric facilities in Gauteng from causes including starvation and neglect, the Department of Health developed a new district health services model. The new model comprises a clinical community psychiatry team and an NGO governance and compliance team. The teams provide mental health-care services at the primary health-care level across the province.
The clinical community psychiatry team’s main responsibility is to deliver community-based mental health services. This includes providing treatment and rehabilitation for mental illnesses and psycho-education for patients, families and the community.
Providing mental health services to communities should prevent unnecessary referrals to specialised mental health hospitals such as Weskoppies. Through successful early intervention, the long-term costs of treatment and medication can be drastically reduced.
The teams also work to prevent mental illness by creating awareness in the community about dealing with life stresses and focusing on overall health and well-being, as well as providing support on a community level. Options include individual treatment, group therapy and/ or attending support groups in local communities.
When the clinical community psychiatry team identifies patients who might need intervention, they will provide family caregiver training and education on mental health, mental illnesses, identify patient symptoms and collaborate with the NGO governance and compliance team regarding placement at an appropriate NGO if required.
The NGO governance and compliance team also monitors the NGOs in the communities to ensure that they comply with the National Health Act. The team ensures that quality mental health services are provided. They also identifies staff training needs and provides ongoing supervision, training and support to staff.
The partnership with the University’s Occupational Therapy Department started at the beginning of 2022.
Students assist with providing more intensive services that cannot otherwise be offered by the clinical community psychiatry team and NGO governance and compliance team occupational therapists. When students leave, they hand over to trained community health workers and community members.