Friendship benches, grandmothers and mental health

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One in 4 Zimbabweans have some form of mental illness but the country has only very limited psychiatric services. A solution is the ‘friendship’ bench’  which builds on respect for matriarchs. Clinics screen patients for mental illness using a locally developed tool and those scoring above a specific level are referred to the friendship bench staffed by grandmothers who are all trained health workers. Through at least 6 one-hour sessions patients are encouraged to talk about their problems and mental illness. In a society where talking about mental health is difficult the naming of the bench was important.  The scheme was initially called the ‘mental health bench’ but no one came.As soon as the name was changed to the friendship bench it became acceptable.The programme has been evaluated and is being extended to 60 other clinics.

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