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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

Cape Times

On page 1, I read about the work of two forensic psychiatrists in the UK involved in the care and treatment and medico-legal proceedings of a man accused of the murder of his wife. The trial will take place in South Africa. "Rapid descent into mental illness" becomes by page 4 an account of the "poor conditions" of South African prisons with "risk of violence, particularly sexual violence", whilst one of the co-defendants, the alleged "hit man", receives "treatment for a brain tumour".

Also on page 4 is the reported death of a passer-by in Hong Kong when another woman commits suicide by jumping off a high rise flat landing on the woman below. Jumping from high buildings is the commonest form of suicide in Hong Kong where, on average, three people a day take their own lives. In South Africa, there are rising rates of suicides by young adults, both males and females, by hanging as the preferred method, according to a PhD study just completed by a public health and A&E specialist. One key plea at the conference I attended recently was the need for doctors to have a stronger voice in shaping health policy that should focus on preventable deaths and injuries.

Also on page 4 was a plea from the South African President, Jacob Zuma, to "cut Easter carnage" on the roads. Alcohol and very high risk-taking driving is a major public health challenge in South Africa.

Yesterday I met up with Professor Mark Tomlinson, a public health specialist. He is involved in the PRIME project looking at the impact of integrating mental health and primary care services across Africa and India, with input from health economists in the UK. Having lived through the political changes of the last 30 years, Mark was able to give me an insightful perspective into the huge changes that have occurred in this country and the challenges still to be overcome. I am looking forward to working with him and colleagues in Canada to look at how we can strengthen the role of mental health in public health.


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