The Friendship Bench Project: Mental health problems in Zimbabwe are a cause for concern, although rarely spoken about. VOA reports that there are only 12 psychiatrists in all of Zimbabwe.
A number which pales in comparison to the Zimbabwean population of about 14 million people and one in four Zimbabweans are considered to be suffering from depression or anxiety.
Due to the unavailability of funds and appropriate mental health clinics, the Friendship Bench project was launched.
“The Friendship Bench Project aims to reduce the treatment gap by using a cognitive behavioural therapy based approach on primary care level to address kufungisisa (depression),” as stated on the official website.
The friendship benches are wooden benches fixated at the grounds of health clinics in Zimbabwe. They offer one-on-onecounselingg sessions by some lay health workers who are employed by the city health authorities of Zimbabwe’s capital Harare. They are also referred to as “grandmother health providers”.
“Patients visiting the primary care clinics are being screened with a locally validated tool called the Shona Symptom Questionnaire (SSQ). When scoring above the cut-off score, they are being referred to the friendship bench where they will receive individual problem-solving therapy from a specifically trained lay health worker.”
A study which saw the participation of about 550 patients was conducted to test the potential of the Friendship Bench project and it proved successful according to Dr. Dixon Chibanda, the co-founder of the program.
Due to funding from the grant and one-year scale up from Grand Challenges Canada (GCC), the project will advance to all major health clinics in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare. The scale-up will also include clinics in neighboring cities of Chitungwiza and Gweru totaling a number of 60 clinics.
The scale up includes five stages; needs, assessment and sensitization of all health workers, devising and adjusting training material, training of facilitators and future supervisors, training of lay health workers and evaluation, roll out and evaluation.
All stages leading to the roll-out are to ensure that the project is well equipped to take on more patients as it hopes to.
More information on the Friendship Bench project can be found on their website: http://www.friendshipbenchzimbabwe.org