Grannies help thousands overcome mental health issues in crisis-hit Zimbabwe

By Oliver Matthews

Harare, Aug 27 (EFE).- A few months ago, 30-year-old Zimbabwean Ruth Banda sank into a deep depression following the death of her father and her uncle’s subsequent attempts to take over the home of her widowed mother.

Things began to look up when she met Joyce Chimbwero, known as Gogo, or “granny,” a kind woman in her 70s who was taking part in the so-called Friendship Benches mental health initiative.

“I started to think, how am I going to solve that issue? It started to eat me up,” Banda told Efe.

“The moment I started to talk to her, I felt better,” she added. “She has changed me so much.”

The counselling Banda received was part of the problem-solving therapy that hundreds of grandmothers, known as “lay health workers,” are trained to administer on simple park benches located at health clinics around Zimbabwe.

Launched in 2005, it is an innovative strategy that has been replicated in other African countries like Kenya and Malawi, and as far away as New York and London.

“Depression is a killer disease because if you have many things in your mind, you can die,” Chimbwero told Efe.

She said her clients approach her with depression linked to loneliness, unemployment and poverty, which adds to the burden of diseases like HIV, diabetes and high blood pressure.

“These issues can worsen due to negative thoughts,” said Chimbwero, who has counselled more than 500 people since she started working for the Friendship Bench in 2017.

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