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Zimbabwe Tackles Mental Health With `Friendship Benches’

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 – VOA January 03, 2017

LONDON – Doctors estimate one in four Zimbabweans battles depression or
anxiety, but there are just 12 psychiatrists treating the entire
population of 14 million.

"We cannot possibly go the route of training psychiatrists and
psychologists because it would take 15 years," said Dr. Victoria Simms of
the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. "How are we going to
provide treatment?"

Local doctors have come up with a simple, but seemingly effective, answer.

The study involved more than 550 patients. After six months, 14 percent of
the patients in the friendship bench group reported symptoms of
depression, compared to 50 percent in a control group. They were also five
times less likely to have suicidal thoughts.

The range of benefits were far-reaching, according to the co-founder of
the program, Dr. Dixon Chibanda of the University of Zimbabwe.

"Not only a mental health sort of package, but a package that actually
improved outcomes of things like hypertension, diabetes, and adherence to
medication for people living with HIV," Chibanda told VOA via Skype.

That success has led to friendship benches being rolled out at 60 clinics
in Harare and two other cities. The Canadian government is helping fund
the expansion through its Grand Challenges Canada aid program, making it
one of the biggest programs in sub-Saharan Africa.

Researchers say it could be a blueprint for mental health in low-income
regions, and could even offer lessons for treatment in richer countries.

Wooden seats, or "friendship benches," were installed on the grounds of
several health clinics in Harare. Visitors were offered six one-on-one
counseling sessions with lay health workers, known as "grandmother health

Those women were trained "to offer problem-solving therapy," Simms said.

"And so the patient explains what all their problems are, and it is
opening up the mind in the sense of allowing the patient to see that they
can do something about their problems."

Source: http://www.voanews.com/a/zimbabwe-friendship-bench-mental-health-treatment/3661639.html

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