Humane: Do Some Good
Giving help to those in need sometimes requires monetary assistance, or the actual act of rolling up our sleeves and providing hands-on help, or organizing a community effort to create a basic venue for food, water, clothing, shelter, education, healthcare, job training, economic development, and other efforts to improve the quality of life for those who need our help.
Mental health is a critical need that often doesn’t make the above areas of focus. True, it could be ensconced in basic healthcare, but in reality, mental health is neglected because it is a complicated issue. For one thing, there is a severe shortage of mental health therapists, and the pervading stigma prevents many who are suffering from seeking treatment even if they could.
Thankfully, there’s StrongMinds, an organization in Uganda that has found a workable solution. After reading through their mission and strategy, I was heartened to know that they are getting outstanding results from using community-based group therapy to treat mental illness. Here’s an excerpt from their website:
StrongMinds restores the mental health of vulnerable Africans by using a simple, cost effective, and scalable community-based group therapy to treat mental illness.
StrongMinds is initially focused on treating depression in Uganda by training community members in group interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT-G) techniques, providing technical assistance to the working groups, and conducting ongoing monitoring and evaluation of these community-based efforts.
The StrongMinds innovative approach trains and supports mental health facilitators to identify and treat individuals with mental illnesses within their own communities. Having an intimate knowledge of the community is fundamental to providing treatment to those most at risk.
StrongMinds will initially treat depression using group interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT-G), which is fundamentally small group talk-therapy that helps participants modify their behavior. It experiences an astounding 90% success rate in eliminating common depression disorders and has been validated in Africa by researchers from Johns Hopkins and Columbia Universities.
Research has also demonstrated that, in addition to being cured of depression, IPT-G group members also experience gains in productivity and health. In addition, their families and communities also become stronger from the social support system created through the IPT-G approach.
Project Outcomes & Results Impact Summary
• 94% Reduction in depressive symptoms
• 63% Increase in ability to save income
• 245% Increase in women eating 3 (three) meals per day
• 22% Increase in self-employment of women
• 67% Reduction in unemployment
StrongMinds’ vision is to treat and improve the lives of 2 million Africans with major depression by the year 2025.
While depression is the leading cause of disability for both males and females, the burden of depression is 50% higher for females than males (WHO, 2008). In fact, depression is the leading cause of disease burden for women in both high-income and low and middle-income countries (WHO, 2008). Research in developing countries suggests that maternal depression may be a risk factor for poor growth in young children (Rahman et al, 2008). This risk factor could mean that maternal mental health in low-income countries may have a substantial influence on growth during childhood, with the effects of depression affecting not only this generation but also the next.
We do this because 100 million Africans lack access to mental health services.
Depression is a common illness worldwide, with an estimated 350 million people affected. Although there are known, effective treatments for depression, fewer than half of those affected in the world (in some countries, fewer than 10%) receive such treatments. Barriers to effective care include a lack of resources, lack of trained health care providers, and social stigma associated with mental disorders. In the African region, 64% of countries lack mental health legislation or have legislation that is outdated and fails to adequately promote the rights of people with mental disabilities.
We do this because mental illness, and specifically depression, disables its sufferers, their families, and communities.
According to the World Health Organization Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2020, mental disorders frequently lead individuals and families into poverty. Because of stigmatization and discrimination, persons with mental disorders often have their human rights violated and many are denied economic, social and cultural rights, with restrictions on the rights of work and education. As such, persons with mental disorders often live in vulnerable situations and may be excluded and marginalized from society, which constitutes a significant impediment to the achievement of national and international development goals.
We do this because mental illness is the most neglected health problem in the developing world.
Health systems have not yet adequately responded to the burden of mental disorders; as a consequence, the gap between the need for treatment and its provision is large all over the world. Between 76% and 85% of people with severe mental disorders receive no treatment for their disorder in low-income and middle-income countries; the corresponding range for high-income countries is also high: between 35% and 50%. A further compounding problem is the poor quality of care for those receiving treatment. WHO’s Mental Health Atlas 2011 provides data that demonstrate the scarcity of resources within countries to meet mental health needs, and underlines the inequitable distribution and inefficient use of such resources. Globally, for instance, annual spending on mental health is less than US$ 2 per person and less than US$ 0.25 per person in low-income countries, with 67% of these financial resources allocated to stand-alone mental hospitals, despite their association with poor health outcomes and human rights violations.
Wouldn’t it be interesting to replicate their program in America?
Here’s how you can help StrongMinds keep up the good work.
Here’s an article by Tina Rosenberg in the New York Times about StrongMinds and other initiatives for mental health.