WATCH: How gogos in Zimbabwe are tackling depression with the Friendship Bench

Since 2006, 400 grandmothers have provided therapy in over 70 Zimbabwean communities.
Since 2006, 400 grandmothers have provided therapy in over 70 Zimbabwean communities.

Depression is a mental health disorder that affects more families than we know. In fact, SADAG recently reported that 1 in 4 university students in South Africa have been diagnosed with depression, while 31.5% of teen suicide attempts required medical intervention and treatment. According to The World Health Organization (WHO), half of all mental health conditions conditions start by 14 years of age but most cases go undetected, and therefore, untreated.

This has much to do with the stigma around depression. This lovely cartoon by @WonderDoodlesbyJS, which has been widely shared on social media, sums it up beautifully:

A lot of people believe depression isn’t something that needs to be addressed. They simply don’t actually believe it’s a real thing. They assume someone with depression is just being overly sensitive and weak, not realising that it’s a mental health disorder that requires intervention. And it becomes all the more challenging to address in developing countries where people also have limited resources and options for getting help.

But in Zimbabwe, one psychiatrist, Dixon Chibanda, is doing his best to help his community by training local grandmothers in evidence-based talk therapy.

Locals with mental health issues sit on what is known as “The Friendship Bench” and over six sessions, the grandmas try to help with issues the community members have, using their real-life experience as well as therapy training.

Since 2006, 400 grandmothers have provided therapy in over 70 Zimbabwean communities and in the past year or so, the project has helped over 30 000 people. 

The Friendship Bench has been so successful, it’s been brought to other countries (in the video you can even see the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge sitting on the bench), making the idea of therapy more accessible than ever before and destigmatising mental health.

Watch the video above to get the real effect.

Do you, your spouse or child, or anyone else in your family, suffer from mental illness? How do you cope? Tell us by emailing and we could publish your story. Do let us know if you'd like to remain anonymous.

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