‘Friendship Bench’ program reduces mental health symptoms for thousands

A groundbreaking technique is helping people deal with depression, anxiety and other mental illness symptoms in Zimbabwe.

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The Friendship Bench program was set up by Dr. Dixon Chibanda, a consultant psychiatrist in Harare, to tackle the problem of evidence-based treatment for people with mental disorders in Zimbabwe.

The program includes health workers known as community “grandmothers” sitting on wooden benches and listening to people living with anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses. They offer the much-needed support and guidance to these patients. These health workers are ordinary people who are trained to be listeners.

According to Good News Network, even though 25% of  Zimbabwe care patients suffer from mental illnesses such as depression, there are only 10 psychiatrists and 15 clinical psychologists.

Dr. Chibanda is also the lead author of the study examining the impact of the program on the people. Significant changes in severity of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts based on locally validated questionnaires for depression and anxiety were seen in the participants.

In the report, Dr. Chibanda says: “Common mental disorders impose a huge burden on all countries of sub-Saharan Africa.

“Developed over 20 years of community research, the Friendship Bench empowers people to achieve a greater sense of coping and control over their lives by teaching them a structured way to identify problems and find workable solutions.”

The Friendship Bench program has helped over 27,500 people since its inception in 2012.

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