[#WHD2017 Africa Blog Series] Inspiring African innovations: StrongMinds, Uganda

This blog is part of our series celebrating World Health Day 2017. This year's theme is Depression: Let's Talk and we're showcasing inspiring innovations addressing depression across Africa.

MHIN Africa innovation on depression 7: StrongMinds

StrongMinds is a proven, cost-effective and scalable, community-based group therapy program to treat depression in appropriate African contexts. Their objective is to treat and improve the lives of 2 million Africans with major depression by 2025.

Tell us about your country’s context and the circumstances that inspired your innovation.

Uganda, like many low- and middle-income countries has high prevalence rates of depression with some figures suggesting 30% of the population suffer from depression. Similarly, those that suffer from depression have poor access to mental health care – a widespread phenomenon in Africa where investment in public mental healthcare services is low. Women that suffer from depression in Uganda are subject to stigma and social ostracism. They are frequently outcast from their communities, experiencing isolation and detachment from the normal social bonds that bind communities together.

Sean Mayberry, the Founder and Executive Director of StrongMinds has over 10 years of development experience, particularly in Africa. He frequently saw mental illness overlooked in development programs and the subsequent impact this had on the wellbeing of individuals and communities, and the success of aid programs. He started StrongMinds, the only organization treating depression at scale in African women, to tackle mental illness and to restore the health and prosperity of so many African women. 

What aspect of your project are you most excited about? How is the project innovative or unique?

StrongMinds trains lay community workers to deliver a simple, cost effective and proven mental health intervention, based on group interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT-G), to women suffering from depression. The program connects depressed women through 12-weeks of group talk therapy, building strong social bonds whilst providing an evidence-based approach to ending depression.

In 2017, we are rapidly expanding our peer therapy model, where graduates of StrongMinds Talk Therapy Groups go on to run their own Peer Therapy Groups. This exciting model allows many more women to be reached with our program as we work towards treating 2 million depressed women by 2025.

Have you noticed an impact ‘on the ground’? What is the best feedback you have received (from service users, team members, or otherwise)?

StrongMinds is motivated by the impressive impact of our intervention. At the completion of our talk therapy groups, 82% of participants are depression-free when assessed using the PHQ-9, a validated and World Health Organization-endorsed depression diagnostic tool. Between 70-80% of women continue to report being depression-free six months post our program and 81% of the women who participated in our groups continue to meet without our formal facilitation, allowing ongoing support of one another and preventing recurrent depressive episodes into the future.

What’s next?

In the next three years, StrongMinds will experience substantial growth with a target to treat 100,000 women by the end of 2019. That is ten times what we have treated in our first three years of field work and means more and more African women living in prosperity, caring for their families, without the burden of depression.

2018 will see us move beyond our existing sites in Uganda as we tackle depression in a new African country that is currently being determined. With up to 66 million women living with depression on the African continent, we know that the further we reach, the more women we can treat.

What is the one message about depression you want people to take away from your innovation?

Depression is not a simple feeling of sadness, which diminishes after a few days. Rather, it is a disease which disables more Africans than HIV/AIDS, cancer, or heart disease. This illness endures for weeks or months, and in some cases years. Symptoms include extreme fatigue, inability to concentrate or make decisions, feelings of guilt or anxiety, and a general loss of interest in life.

However, with simple, effective interventions, such as StrongMinds Therapy Groups and Peer Therapy Groups, women with depression can go on to healthy, productive lives, caring for their families and children, and contributing positively to their communities. 

For more African innovations featured in this series, please visit the [#WHD2017 Africa Blog Series].

Detection and diagnosis
Treatment, care and rehabilitation
Training, education and capacity building
Depression/anxiety/stress-related disorders
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