The CPMH grew out of a shared vision and commitment to collaboration between members of the Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health at the University of Cape Town (UCT), and the Psychology Department at Stellenbosch University (SU).

At UCT, the establishment of a Centre to undertake research and training in Public Mental Health was initially suggested as an outcome of the groundbreaking Mental Health and Poverty Project (MHaPP), led by Alan Flisher and Crick Lund.  At the same time, Leslie Swartz, Ashraf Kagee and Tony Naidoo at the Psychology Department at SU started developing a Masters in Public Mental Health.

When this became apparent, the two departments began a process of collaboration that eventually culminated in the establishment of the CPMH, through the adoption of a memorandum of understanding between UCT and SU in May 2009.

The core group was later joined by Sharon Kleintjes, Mark Tomlinson and Ereshia Benjamin, but, tragically, Alan Flisher died before the launch of the Centre on 16 August 2010.  The Centre’s Launch, attended by leading international and national mental health experts, was opened by Dr. Shekhar Saxena, Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse of the World Health Organisation. As a fitting tribute to Alan’s life and work, the annual Alan J Flisher Memorial Lecture was also launched at the same event, and delivered by world renowned global mental health expert Prof. Vikram Patel, Professor of International Mental Health and Wellcome Trust Senior Clinical Research Fellow at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

The CPMH was officially renamed the Alan J Flisher Centre for Public Mental Health in 2011.

The CPMH was conferred the status of University Research Committee (URC) Centre by the University of Cape Town in 2014.