About us

1 in 3 women in South Africa suffers from common mental disorders (depression and/or anxiety) during and after pregnancy.

Maternal mental illnesses, particularly common mental disorders such as depression and anxiety, are very common in low-income and informal settings. While maternal mental illness affects 10% to 15% of women in developed countries, prevalence is about 20% in South Africa.
Most of the women in South Africa who experience maternal mental illness are poor, from disadvantaged communities and face many challenges in accessing services and care.
Get a quick overview of our work and watch a series of short videos about us here.

The Perinatal Mental Health Project (PMHP) is an independent initiative based at the University of Cape Town. It is located within the Alan J Flisher Centre for Public Mental Health, in the Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health. We are a non-profit entity and have been operating since 2002.

We partner with the Departments of Health and Social Development. We provide mental health services for pregnant and postnatal women, train those who work with mothers to improve the quality of their care, form partnerships to promote the scale-up of services and inform global interventions through robust research and advocacy. We support state agencies and partner with non-profit organisations to achieve health and social development objectives.

We actively address the challenges associated with gender-based violence, teen pregnancy, HIV, substance misuse, refugee status and early childhood development through its clinical engagement with vulnerable women and their families. Through training of staff that interact with these women, through research projects and advocacy work, we address some of the challenges in meeting Sustainable Development Goals 1, 3, 5 and 10.

We are part of the Mental Health Innovation Network (MHIN), a community of mental health innovators – researchers, practitioners, policy-makers, service user advocates, and donors from around the world.

We are also part of the Global Alliance for Maternal Mental Health (GAMMH), the African Alliance for Maternal Mental Health (AAMMH), the International Marcé Society for Perinatal Mental Health and a member of the World Maternal Mental Health Day task force.

Learn more about our global collaborations:

Global Collaborations

Our Focus Areas

  • Advocacy for action towards maternal mental health care for all mothers 
  • Systems strengthening for the integration of maternal mental health services at scale
  • Knowledge generation to strengthen maternal mental health systems in low resource settings
  • Capacity building to establish a critical mass of service providers capable of detecting and providing basic mental health support for mothers

Maternal mental health: cornerstone of health and development outcomes

Life changes around pregnancy make women more vulnerable to mental illness. The negative cycle of poverty and mental illness impact on a woman’s ability to function and thrive. This may also directly affect her foetus or child, with long-lasting physical, cognitive and emotional outcomes. Mental health care provides the necessary support to empower women to identify resources and personal capabilities. This can enhance their resilience to difficult life circumstances and support them to nurture their children optimally. Caring for mothers is a positive intervention for long-term social development.

  • Read about the potential consequences of maternal mental illness 
  • Read about the positive impact of our maternal mental health interventions 

Support from the University of Cape Town

The PMHP was formally incorporated into the University of Cape Town (UCT) in 2008.

The decision to locate the Project under the umbrella of UCT was informed by the need to ensure scientific oversight and rigour for PMHP research, to receive collegial support, and to increase the reach of the PMHP through teaching the next generation of service providers in all related departments. The PMHP joined the University as a ‘soft funded’, independent project. This means that there was not an undertaking by UCT to support the PMHP financially, but rather, to support the work of the Project by several other means. Being located within UCT has contributed to the growth and sustainability of the Project, as well as its international credibility and reputation. 

Fundraising support

The UCT Development and Alumni offices, in South Africa, Canada, Australia, the US and the UK, support the PMHP fundraising efforts through prospect identification and relationship building. The Research Finance Office has committed to securing matching funds for all PMHP research grants obtained from the Medical Research Council and the National Research Foundation (both in South Africa). In addition, PMHP team members are paid for teaching courses which fall outside of strategic partnerships established as ‘sector building’.

Management & collegial support

The Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health agreed to house the PMHP, with the Head of Department providing overall line-management functions to the Project. In addition, as a founding partner of the Alan J Flisher Centre for Public Mental Health, located in the same Department, PMHP benefits from a community of academics which provides scientific oversight to validate PMHP research and service development. The Project also has access to an international network of experts in the mental health field, and is able to extend reach and impact through developing research capacity, teaching, consulting and advocacy to promote mental health in Africa and other low-resource settings.

Capacity building & sustainability

PMHP staff have access to UCT learning and development programmes. Staff can choose from an annual programme of job-related, short skills courses as well as a comprehensive range of personal development opportunities.

Infrastructure support

UCT provides the PMHP with office space, including telephone lines, IT services, office furniture and all other services commensurate with office needs. All financial services, independent auditing and HR services are included in this package. The PMHP pays a small levy on all donations it receives for this package of services.