Understanding the benefits and challenges of community engagement in the development of community mental health services for common mental disorders: lessons from a case study in a rural South African subdistrict site
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Against the backdrop of a large treatment gap for mental disorders in low- to middle income countries (LMICs), the 2007 Lancet series on global mental health calls for a scaling up of mental health services. Community participation is largely harnessed as
one strategy to facilitate this call. Using a participatory implementation framework for the development of mental health services for common mental disorders (CMDs) in a rural subdistrict in South Africa as a case study, this study sought to understand the
benefits and challenges of community participation beyond that of scaling up. Qualitative process evaluation involving interviews with service providers and users was employed. The results suggest that in addition to promoting mobilization of resources and
actions for scaling up mental health services, community participation can potentially contribute to more culturally competent services and personal empowerment of recipients of care. In addition, community participation holds promise for engendering community-led public health actions to ameliorate some of the social determinants of mental ill health. Challenges include that community members involved in these activities are mainly marginalized women, who have limited power to achieve structural change, including cultural practices that may be harmful to the mental health of women and children. We conclude that in addition to contributing to scaling up mental health services, community participation can potentially promote the development of culturally
competent mental health services and greater community control of mental health.