How to Treat Depression in African Societies

For most of the 20th century, the view that “mental health” was exclusively a problem of the wealthier west was widely held by doctors, mental health professionals and cultural theorists. JC Carothers, a psychiatrist and consultant to the WHO, represented one typical branch of this belief. In 1953, he published an influential paper on the “African mind”, in which he argued that the continent’s inhabitants lacked the psychological development and sense of personal responsibility necessary to experience depression. In 2005, the World Health Organization reported that a number of countries – including Afghanistan, Rwanda, Chad, Eritrea and Liberia – had just one or two psychiatrists in the whole country. Today, Zimbabwe has friendship benches at 72 health clinics in three cities where an estimated 40,000 patients have been treated in the last two or three years, most of them women. The project by Dr Chibanda also launched benches in rural areas, and one for adolescents, which will be staffed by their peers. The model is also being adapted in other places, from Malawi and Zanzibar to New York.


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