Objective: Approximately one in five children and adolescents (CA) suffer from mental disorders. This paper reports on the findings of a situational analysis of CA mental health policy and services in Ghana, Uganda, South Africa and Zambia. The findings are part of a 5 year study, the Mental Health and Poverty Project, which aims to provide new knowledge regarding multi-sectoral approaches to breaking the cycle of poverty and mental ill-health in Africa. Method: The World Health Organization's Assessment Instrument for Mental Health Systems (WHO-AIMS) Version 2.2 was used to collect quantitative information on mental health resources. Mental health policies and legislation were analysed using the WHO Policy and Plan, and Legislation Checklists. Qualitative data were collected through focus groups and interviews. Results: Child and adolescent mental health (CAMH) - related legislation, policies, services, programmes and human resources are scarce. Stigma and low priority given to mental health contribute to low investment in CAMH. Lack of attention to the impoverishing impact of mental disorders on CA and their families contribute to the burden. Conclusion: Scaling up child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) needs to include anti-stigma initiatives, and a greater investment in CAMH. Clear policy directions, priorities and targets should be set in country-level CAMH policies and plans. CAMHS should be intersectoral and include consideration of the poverty - mental health link. The roles of available mental health specialists should be expanded to include training and support of practitioners in all sectors. Interventions at community level are needed to engage youth, parents and local organizations to promote CAMH.
African Journal of Psychiatry (2010) 13 (2) 132-139