The Friendship Bench Tackles Mental Health

In Zimbabwe, like many places globally, mental health needs and depression rates are rising,  often affecting those who don’t have access to proper mental professionals most. Dixon Chibanda, a psychiatrist in Harare, Zimbabwe, and director of the African Mental Health Research Initiative shared that there are only 12 psychiatrists practicing in a country of over 16 million. To take on this vital challenge of providing mental wellness, he trained over 700 grandmothers in evidence-based talk therapy with a free program they called the Friendship Bench program. The talk therapy is Staged on a bench which invites warm conversation with  caring and understanding counselors.  What makes the program so effective is that grandmothers are not only educated in new formal methods of therapy, but they also layer in the essential cultural roots concepts that people can relate to.  The Friendship Bench  ​​has imagined anew mental health care in Zimbabwe and now New York – helping people cope with depression and anxiety–by creating a safe space to bring care and hope to those in need.