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Afr J Psychiatry (Johannesbg). 2013 Mar;16(2):94-103. doi:

The outcome of mental health care users admitted under Section 40 of the South African Mental Health Care Act (No 17 of 2002).

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  • 1Department of Neurosciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.



To determine the outcomes of mental health care users (MHCU's) admitted in terms of Section 40 of the South African Mental Health Care Act (No 17 of 2002) (MHCA) and the factors, if any, that are associated with these outcomes.


The study was a retrospective record review of MHCU's, 18 years and older, referred by the South African Police Service (SAPS) to Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital (CHBH). All mental health care users handed over to CHBH by SAPS with completed MHCA form 22's during the period July 2007 to December 2007 were included in the study. The outcomes, demographics and clinical characteristics of these referrals were obtained from hospital records.


During the six-month study period, 718 MHCU's were referred by members of SAPS to the CHBH Emergency Department. Associations were found between discharged MHCU's and i) being male, ii) being less than 35 years of age, iii) being unemployed, iv) having a lower level of education, v) having a past history of substance abuse and/or vi) a past psychiatric illness. Females were twice as likely to be unemployed and admitted to hospital (either to a psychiatric or general medical ward). MHCU's diagnosed with delirium were more likely to be admitted into a medical ward as compared to a psychiatric ward.


As has been the case in most countries where police services have been incorporated into mental health acts, South Africa's new Mental Health Care Act (No 17 of 2002) has resulted in a large number of referrals by the police to mental health services. However, many of these referrals may not be necessary as most MHCU's end up not being admitted. The characteristics of police referrals suggest that the receiving facility should have the capacity to identify factors that favour outpatient care (especially substance abuse problems) and divert MHCU's presenting with such factors to appropriate treatment facilities without admitting them to the hospital.

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