Are ‘Friendship Benches’ the Cure for Depression, Anxiety in Poor Countries?

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

If you’re anxious or depressed, talking things out can do wonders for emotional and mental health, even if the friendly ear listening is not attached to a licensed psychiatrist.

People in low-income areas and countries are not immune to the mental disorders that also afflict their wealthier counterparts, but their access to proper medical care is limited. A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association may have the solution: Friendship Benches. The initiative is described as “six sessions of individual problem-solving therapy delivered by trained, supervised [lay health workers]” — who are trained to offer support but are not formally licensed — as well as optional peer support. In a trial in Zimbabwe, adults with common mental disorders who received the weekly treatment saw an improvement in symptoms as compared to a control group that did not.

“Depression and anxiety are common mental disorders globally but are rarely recognized or treated in low-income settings,” the study says, estimating that a quarter of Zimbabwe has such disorders. “Task-shifting of mental health care to lay health workers (LHWs) might decrease the treatment gap.”

Grand Challenges Canada, a group funded by the Canadian government that invests in global health initiatives, explained in a statement that the lay health workers are known in their communities as “grandmothers” and have been trained to listen to patients with mental disorders like anxiety and depression and offer support. “Their offices are simple wooden seats, called Friendship Benches, located in the grounds of health clinics around Harare and other major cities in Zimbabwe.”

Source: Medical Daily (link opens in a new window)

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