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Hundreds of grandmothers on Friendship Benches in Zimbabwe and beyond are helping tackle mental health challenges in communities using talk therapies.

The celebrated Friendship Bench, is a model that brings together grandmothers, basic cognitive behavioral therapy and community support. In Zimbabwe, it's been used to expand mental health outreach in a country with about a dozen psychiatrists in a population of approximately 15 million people.

The programme, Chibanda (who is director of the African Mental Health Research Initiative and an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Zimbabwe and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine) believes, can serve as a blueprint for any community, city or country interested in bringing affordable, accessible and highly effective mental health services to its residents. As Chibanda puts it: “Imagine if we could create a global network of grandmothers in every major city in the world.”

There are now close to 100 peer-reviewed studies on different aspects of the Friendship Bench, including its effectiveness. Research found significant improvement in participants with depression who received therapy from a trained grandmother. At six months, participants who interacted with these lay health workers were — according to a range of indicators, including fear, anger, and sleep patterns — better off than those who received therapy from a community mental health nurse or psychologist.

Source: Boston Globe