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Psychological help on your phone? Here’s how you can make that a reality

A man holding a Windows Phone

It’s fair to say we don’t acknowledge or talk about depression often enough in Zimbabwe. Recently, I was fortunate enough to learn that 1 in 4 Zimbabweans present symptoms of depression. Unfortunately, in under-resourced communities, there is 1 mental health worker for every 1.5 million people.

Therein lies the problem. Not only is the condition not viewed in a serious light, but there is also a serious lack of people to attend to those in need of assistance.

Enter Friendship Bench…

Friendship Bench is on a mission to “create safe spaces and a sense of belonging in communities, to enhance mental well-being and improve peoples’ quality of life”.

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The organisation trains community health workers to provide basic Cognitive Behavioural Therapy with an emphasis on Problem Solving Therapy.

The talk therapy intervention is provided to people with mild and moderate level common mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression.

We are not conventional, our trained CHWs sit with their clients outdoors, under the trees on wooden park benches in discreet safe spaces in the community. During training, a referral pathway is established for cases which are considered ‘red flags’ where a higher level of care is needed.

The Friendship Bench

More interesting is the fact that The Friendship Bench has launched a chat-based app as part of a trial that participants can use to get free mental health care based on the evidence-based Problem-Solving Therapy.

At the moment, the app is only available on trial as The Friendship Bench is looking to collect evidence on whether or not this works as effectively as face-to-face. The trial is being headed by Prof. Dixon Chibanda (psychiatrist and FB Founder) and Dr Jermaine Dambi.

Who is eligible to be part of the trial?

  1. You are living in Zimbabwean & hold a national ID
  2. Have access to an internet connection & smartphone
  3. Speak either English or Shona
  4. Are 18 years of age or above​
  5. Can commit to a 3 month follow up session
  6. You are not an employee of the Friendship Bench

What will the trial process involve?

  • Talking to the FB Research Coordinator via telephone
  • Providing registration details and completion of a questionnaire
  • Downloading the Inuka App or alternatively receiving talk therapy over the phone
  • Registering on the App, making an appointment with a trained Friendship Bench peer counsellor
  • Being available for one-on-one online chat sessions; a session may last 30-60 minutes
  • At the end of each session, you will get an action card, with practical steps towards making positive changes
  • Plan a follow-up session to review what worked and take the next steps forward- this could include scheduling another appointment or continuing to take your action steps to wellness!
  • Have a 3-month follow-up with the Friendship Bench Research Coordinator

If this is something that interests you, you can sign up for the Friendship Bench trial here or WhatsApp +263784845294.


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2 thoughts on “Psychological help on your phone? Here’s how you can make that a reality

  1. Was connecting with the concept and potential of this app up until the only two available languages being English and Shona. While i understand 16 recognised languages are a herculean task, the addition of yet another major language NDEBELE, would have been a pleasant and statistically sound collation of trial data. The trial will therefore be flawed!!!

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