‘Friendship Benches’ Helping To Treat Mental Health Issues in Developing World

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For many people, life in the developing world can lead to huge amounts of stress, anxiety, and other types of serious mental health issues. But a new study has created hope that those types of issues can be properly addressed and alleviated.

It’s called a Friendship Bench, and for nine months their effect was studied at mental health clinics throughout the nation of Zimbabwe in southern Africa. They are simple large, wooden benches where people suffering from depression or other mental health disorders go to speak with health workers known as “Grandmothers.”

The “Grandmothers” are trained to listen and provide support to patients who may otherwise be unable to receive treatment for mental health issues. Participants in the study went through six “problem-solving therapy” sessions on the Friendship Benches.

The studied show that following those six sessions on the Friendship Bench, patients were three times less likely to exhibit signs of depression compared to those treated with standard care and more than four times less likely to experience anxiety.

The results of the study represent a potential breakthrough for the treatment of mental health disorders throughout sub-saharan Africa, where few people have access to the treatment they need.

For instance, roughly 25% of Zimbabwe’s population of 15 million has issues related to anxiety, depression, or other mental health problems. However, the country has just¬†10 psychiatrists and 15 clinical psychologists, leaving most without proper treatment.

The use of Friendship Benches could help provide treatment for a larger volume of people throughout Zimbabwe and other sub-saharan countries, particularly for those who would otherwise be unable to afford the necessary treatment.

“Common mental disorders impose a huge burden on all countries of sub-Saharan Africa,” says Dr. Dixon Chibanda, lead author of the study. “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.”

After the groundbreaking results of this study have been published, the next step is to make the Friendship Bench available to more people throughout sub-sarahan Africa, where it has the potential to do wonders for large segments of the population suffering from mental health disorders.