Experiences of Persons Living with Severe and Persistent Mental Illness

  • Dalena van Rooyen Nelson Mandela University
  • Kegan Topper Nelson Mandela University
  • Nontembeko Grycelda Shasha Lilitha College, Eastern Cape
  • Juanita Strümpher Nelson Mandela University
Keywords: mental healthcare, mental illness, primary healthcare, rural health, South Africa


The mental healthcare needs of individuals suffering from mental illness, especially those with severe and persistent mental illness, are neglected and often misunderstood in South African rural communities. The purpose of the study was to explore and describe experiences of persons living with severe and persistent mental illness and those of their families in respect of mental health services provided by primary healthcare facilities in rural Eastern Cape, South Africa. A qualitative, descriptive, exploratory research design was utilised. Convenience sampling was used to select primary healthcare facilities in the rural Emalahleni sub-district of the Chris Hani Health District in the Eastern Cape. Purposive sampling was used to recruit persons living with severe and persistent mental illness (n = 18) and their family members (n = 11). A total of 29 in-depth, unstructured individual interviews were conducted using an audio recorder. Tesch’s thematic analysis was used to identify themes from the data. Two central themes emerged from the data, namely the challenges in accessing primary healthcare services, and the inadequate provision of mental healthcare. Primary healthcare in rural South Africa needs to be better prioritised by national government to deal with mental healthcare. Improvements in infrastructural and staff capacity are needed to improve access and availability of mental healthcare services in rural communities. Nursing education programmes should better integrate mental healthcare into curricula, especially rural mental healthcare. Cost-effective, evidence-based, culturally-sensitive mental health innovations focusing on the mental health needs throughout the person’s life course should be implemented.

Author Biographies

Dalena van Rooyen, Nelson Mandela University
Deputy Dean, Faculty of Health Sciences
Kegan Topper, Nelson Mandela University
Faculty of Health Sciences
Juanita Strümpher, Nelson Mandela University

Department of Nursing Science

How to Cite
van Rooyen, Dalena, Kegan Topper, Nontembeko Grycelda Shasha, and Juanita Strümpher. 2019. “Experiences of Persons Living With Severe and Persistent Mental Illness”. Africa Journal of Nursing and Midwifery 21 (1), 17 pages. https://doi.org/10.25159/2520-5293/4547.