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Project Syndicate: Pioneering Community-Led Solutions to the Global Mental Health Crisis

"Well-crafted community-based initiatives are both cost-effective and highly scalable. Beyond improving individual mental health and resilience, such programs strengthen community cohesion and encourage collective problem-solving."

The global mental health crisis and psychological suffering is increasingly widespread in the 21st-century. Rising climate anxiety, intense trauma and international conflict, global health crises, and a lack of mental healthcare infrastructure all contribute to the exponential rise in feelings of social isolation, loneliness, and suicides. The crisis impacts every group, with younger generations fearing a loss of future opportunities and older generations mourning the world they knew. Psychiatric patients are beginning to outnumber available doctors in rich and resource-constrained countries alike and in Zimbabwe, there are only 19 psychiatrists for 16+ million people.

In 2006, Dixon Chibanda piloted the Friendship Bench with 14 “grandmothers,” lay health workers who met with clients struggling with kufungisisa (anxiety and depression). They provide talk therapy, connect clients to group support, and refer them to professionals for additional care if needed. Since 2016, over 200,000 people have received treatment, with evidence supporting reduced depression and anxiety in patients following the intervention. Rife with global challenges, the mental health crisis will continue to evolve, for that reason, global demand for novel interventions like the Friendship Bench continues to grow.

In Project Syndicate, Dixon Chibanda shares how innovative, community-driven, low-cost models such as Friendship Bench can offer mental health support to millions worldwide.

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