Statistics show between 76% and 85% of people with severe mental disorder in low- and middle-income countries receive no treatment. Research shows that when an African mother is affected by depression, her entire family suffers; her children have poor health, they don’t attend school regularly, and her income can dwindle.
StrongMinds (an organisation combating depression) founder Sean Mayberry spent 10 years working and living in Africa, mainly focusing on physical health issues like HIV/AIDS and malaria. During that time, he became aware and frustrated by the lack of access for Africans who suffered from mental illness: ‘I could see the toll it took on the women themselves and on their families and communities.’
StrongMinds was specifically set-up to improve the mental health of women in Africa and Mayberry says it is unique in being focused on depression: ‘It’s a huge mental illness for African women and we are really the only organisation in Africa that is singularly focused on this.’
Through group talk therapy for an hour a week over a 12 week period, depression is tackled head on, with groups of upto 10–12 depressed women, brought together by a group leader from the community. The group leader isn’t a professional in this field, but is employ and train by StrongMinds themselves.
StrongMinds trains its own people to ensure a level of cultural understanding and awareness. ‘Even if you had available mental health experts from developed countries, they would not have the cultural understanding necessary to identify the people living with depression or to connect with them at the level they need. That requires someone from within the community, someone with a knowledge of the people they’re working with,’ says Mayberry.
An evaluation of the success of the effort demonstrated a 92% reduction in depressive symptoms; a 67% reduction in unemployment, and a 22% increase in self-employment. On top of that there was a 63% increase in a participant’s ability to save income, and a 245% increase in women eating three meals a day.