"Friendship Bench" workers help effectively treat mental illness


2017-01-05 00:04

In a study in Zimbabwe “Friendship Bench” workers were able to effectively help alleviate symptoms of mental illness.

There has been a great deal of disgust with how psychiatrists, who have a monopoly on mental health care, have created a destructive discipline which causes more harm than good as reported on by the Citizens Commission on Human Rights. It is therefore not surprising that in Africa there has been an initiative to use lay people to help with mental health care.

A "Friendship Bench" program in Zimbabwe has proven to be effective at alleviating symptoms of mental illness

Grand Challenges Canada reports a "Friendship Bench" program in Zimbabwe has proven to be effective at alleviating symptoms of mental illness. Therapy with this program lowered the prevalence of depression to levels less than 14 percent in comparison to 50 percent in a control group.

The offices of "Friendship Bench" workers are made up of simple wooden seats which are called "Friendship Benches." These are found at health clinics around Harare and at other major cities located in Zimbabwe. Practitioners in this scheme are lay health care workers who are known as being community "Grandmothers." These practitioners are trained to carefully listen to and give support to patients who are living with anxiety, depression and other mental disorders.

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Research which was funded by the Government of Canada via Grand Challenges Canada which was done by the University of Zimbabwe, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and King's College London, showed that this novel approach to mental health care has the potential to greatly improve the lives of millions of people suffering from moderate and severe mental health problems. Based on questionnaires it was found that participants displayed variances in anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts after they had six "problem solving therapy" sessions a week.

Patients suffering from depression who got problem-solving therapy via the "Friendship Bench" were less likely to suffer from symptoms of depression

The patients suffering from depression or anxiety who got problem-solving therapy via the "Friendship Bench" were found to be greater than three times less likely to suffer from symptoms of depression after six months in comparison to patients who received standard care. The patients from the problem-solving therapy group were also four times less likely to suffer from anxiety symptoms and five times less likely to suffer from suicidal thoughts than the control group.

This study has been published in JAMA. In this study among people who screened positive for common mental disorders in Zimbabwe, lay health worker administered primary care–based problem-solving therapy was found to be very effective for treating anxiety and depression. In view of the increasing awareness of how consistently harmful psychiatric intervention is for dealing with mental health issues this is very significant.

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