Zim Team Takes Community Mental Health Model To Rwanda and Liberia

THE Friendship Bench after successful adoption in the  United States of America (USA) and other African countries expects to scale up their model  to Rwanda and Liberia.

By Kudakwashe Pembere

The Friendship Bench project funded by Grand Challenges Canada developed a low-cost, task-sharing initiative to train village and community health workers to deliver a basic psychological intervention for common mental disorders.

This project which was started 13 years ago by Professor Dixon Chibanda, has since been rolled out to Harare and Gweru, and is being piloted for rural settings in Masvingo. This Zimbabwean intervention has been adapted to Kenya, Tanzania, and New York City.

“The program has been so successful it has been adopted in several different countries in USA, New York City, the Bronx and Harlem. It’s also gone to places like Zanzibar, it’s in Malawi, and we are preparing to take it to Liberia and Rwanda.

“And the beauty of the friendship bench is that it’s simple, it’s cheap, and its evidence based. And that’s what we are encouraging across the whole global mental health community to develop innovations that are simple, cheap but are scalable,” Prof Chibanda said.

The Friensdship Bench is a brief psychological intervention which is delivered by trained community grandmothers in Zimbabwe, as explained by the founder.

“It was developed as a stop gap measure to address the huge burden of common mental disorders in our country. So we train grandmothers who then go on to treat people in their communities. They treat depression, they alleviate all sorts of symptoms which are linked to stress,” Prof Chibanda said.

Meanwhile, starting from April 4 they will be training young mental health users in counselling other youths suffering from mental health conditions.

With the youth requiring the counselling to come out of mental illnesses caused by substance  abuse, the initiative found it fit to also engage them in helping their peers.

Prof Chibanda  said involving the youths is part of their strategies to improve mental health in their communities

“So one of the key strategies for friendship bench is to work with people who have lived experiences. Claudious Mukoki has a lived experience,” he said.

He said young mental health users can better articulate their experiences thus becoming effective counsellors.

“So when you empower a person with a lived experience, they become extremely effective therapists, counsellors and this is why we are involving Claudious.

“Its not just Claudious that we are working with, we are working with a lot of other people. So yes that’s the reason we are working with them,” Prof Chibanda added.

Claudious, a mental health user was excited to be part of the youth training program.

“I am happy to be part of the Friendship Bench counselling training program which is starting on April 4,” he said.

In 2017, Zimbabwe National Association for Mental Health clinical psychologist and national coordinator Mr Ignatious Murambizi, in their snap surveys found the youths being most affected due to substance abuse.

“But from a few surveys that we have come across, for example, about 60 percent of hospital admissions are currently due to substance misuse or abuse of substances especially among young people. Most of the state psychiatric institutions are full as I speak due to various mental health conditions. So that on its own its an indication that there is a massive increase of the number of people suffering from mental illnesses,” Murambidzi said.

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