Human rights and mental health in post-apartheid South Africa : lessons from health care professionals working with suicidal inmates in the prison system
CITATION: Bantjes, J., Swartz, L. & Niewoudt, P. 2017. Human rights and mental health in post-apartheid South Africa : lessons from health care professionals working with suicidal inmates in the prison system. BMC International Health and Human Rights, 17:29, doi:10.1186/s12914-017-0136-0.
The original publication is available at https://bmcinthealthhumrights.biomedcentral.com
Publication of this article was funded by the Stellenbosch University Open Access Fund.
Background: During the era of apartheid in South Africa, a number of mental health professionals were vocal about the need for socio-economic and political reform. They described the deleterious psychological and social impact of the oppressive and discriminatory Nationalist state policies. However, they remained optimistic that democracy would usher in positive changes. In this article, we consider how mental health professionals working in post-apartheid South Africa experience their work. Methods: Our aim was to describe the experience of mental health professionals working in prisons who provide care to suicidal prisoners. Data were collected from in-depth semi-structured interviews and were analyzed using thematic content analysis. Results: Findings draw attention to the challenges mental health professionals in post-apartheid South Africa face when attempting to provide psychological care in settings where resources are scarce and where the environment is anti-therapeutic. Findings highlight the significant gap between current policies, which protect prisoners’ human rights, and every-day practices within prisons. Conclusions: The findings imply that there is still an urgent need for activism in South Africa, particularly in the context of providing mental health care services in settings which are anti-therapeutic and inadequately resourced, such as prisons.