Scientific letters

A community service doctor’s experiences of mental healthcare provision in rural Eastern Cape

Divan Rall, Leslie Swartz
South African Family Practice | Vol 66, No 1 : Part 2| a5849 | DOI: | © 2024 Divan Rall, Leslie Swartz | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 19 October 2023 | Published: 15 March 2024

About the author(s)

Divan Rall, Department of Psychology, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Leslie Swartz, Department of Psychology, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa


Background: Literature shows that in South Africa there are insufficient resources to meet mental healthcare needs. At general or district hospital level, the non-specialist doctor is often responsible for the holistic assessment and management of mental health service users. Such situations inevitably increase doctors’ care load as they are required to treat across disciplines. We highlight the particular challenges faced by a community service (CS) doctor in this context.

Methods: The presented case study formed part of a larger project that investigated public mental healthcare provision in the Eastern Cape province. Data were collected through a once-off semi-structured interview with the participant. The interview was transcribed and data analysed by utilising thematic analysis to yield results.

Results: The study suggests that the CS doctor experiences being overloaded with duties, and feels overwhelmed in a healthcare context that lacks resources needed for service provision, which may lead to inadequate mental healthcare provision to public health service users.

Conclusion: Healthcare facilities in rural parts of the Eastern Cape province are in need of assistance. This in-depth account highlighted the consequences of working on the front line of a disadvantaged and under-resourced health system. The presented account can be interpreted as a cry for help by CS doctors for relevant authorities to improve access and provision of mental healthcare in the area.

Contribution: The paper provides an exploration of the circumstances wherein mental healthcare is provided in rural parts of South Africa.


public mental healthcare; rural mental healthcare; community service doctor; Eastern Cape; South Africa.

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 3: Good health and well-being


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