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The Friendship Bench

The Friendship Bench project aims to test the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of an existing brief psychological intervention for common mental disorders based on problem-solving and behavioral activation therapy delivered by trained lay health workers supported and supervised through technological platforms.Grand Challenges Canada awarded a grant to pioneer new ways to provide mental health care rarely available in low-resource developing countries. Known as The Friendship Bench which has CGMH, it involves Melanie Abas (KCL), Ricardo Araya and Helen Weiss (LSHTM).

Lay health workers, known as community 'Grandmothers,' deliver cognitive behavioural therapy in a safe, comfortable environment on wooden benches outside on the clinic grounds.

This low-cost therapy proves effective therapy in alleviating depression, other mental illness symptoms; scale-up funding will extend to reach 14,000 patients.

A technique developed and demonstrated in Zimbabwe to be an inexpensive, effective way to alleviate depression and other mental illness symptoms among HIV-AIDS and other patients will expand to reach 14,000 additional people in 2016.

Patients, referred to the benches by clinicians, receive up to six 45-minute counselling sessions, including one home visit and, in some cases, referral to other health or social services or to income-generating activities. Specialist support is available via mobile phones and tablets.

Assessed after 6 months, the prevalence of depression was less than 10% among roughly 250 Friendship Bench participants versus roughly one-third in a control group of similar size. The full study is expected to be published later this year.

A Cloud-based platform developed by the project team serves to integrate training, screening patient referrals and follow-up.

For more information about Friendship Bench, please read the Training Manual (PDF 3MB).

Global Mental Health & Primary Care Research
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