Sharing experiences of improving mental health in Africa

Experts from mental health programmes in Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria gathered in London last week to share learning about the most effective ways to support people with mental health conditions in Africa.

Mental health conditions such as depression are a leading cause of disability worldwide, often leading to immense suffering and limiting a person’s ability to live independently, earn a living or participate in their community. 80% of people affected by mental illness live in low- or middle-income countries, where most have little or no access to treatment. Many live in extreme poverty, facing isolation, rejection and abuse. 

The five-day learning event was hosted by global mental health NGO BasicNeeds, which has been part of the CBM family since 2017. It brought together three organisations that have been working to help people with mental health problems in different parts of Africa - Caritas Nyeri from Kenya, Voice Ghana from Ghana and Gede Foundation from Nigeria – along with BasicNeeds and CBM staff.

Scaling up community-based mental health care

In 2014, BasicNeeds received a grant from Grand Challenges Canada to scale up community-based mental health care and support in Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya. The funding was used to support three local partner organisations to implement the proven “Basic Needs model”. This funding, along with support from BasicNeeds, enabled Caritas Nyeri, Voice Ghana and Gede Foundation – all of whom had a strong track record of running other health or disability programmes in their own communities - to set up mental health programmes for the first time.

Gede Foundation had many years’ experience of working with people with HIV/Aids in Nigeria before they started a mental health programme with support from BasicNeeds. Godwin Etim explains that attitudes towards mental health were a particular issue:

“It was an eye opener for us in Nigeria. Overcoming barriers - stigma and discrimination. It was the first programme in our province on mental health. Now people are openly coming forward.”

He valued the opportunity to learn from other organisations in different parts of Africa during the workshop in London:

“We have learned so much about interconnected projects. Great to hear the positive results of these projects - that they are working and promoting community response [to mental health].”

Helen Karimi of Caritas Kenya also valued the opportunity to review what had been achieved and learn from others:

“It was a fantastic week, that we were able to evaluate the work we have done with GCC, looking at the successes and achievements we make and challenges along the way and the lessons learnt.”

Holistic approach to mental health

BasicNeeds was founded in 2000 to improve the lives of people with mental health problems around the world. Like CBM, BasicNeeds take a holistic approach to mental health, helping people with mental illness and their families to live and work successfully in their communities by:

  •  improving access to treatment by training and equipping health professionals;
  • creating and supporting self-help groups and peer support initiatives that provide mutual support for people with mental illness and their carers and help them have a stronger voice in their communities;
  • helping people with mental health conditions earn a living, as part of their ongoing recovery;
  • educating communities about mental illness to reduce stigma and discrimination;
  • supporting people and communities to advocate for care, treatment, and rights within their own countries.

Top – Members of BasicNeeds UK, Kenya and Ghana come together with partners from Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria for a lessons learned workshop at the Commonwealth Foundation in London. 
Middle – Milka Waruguru from Kenya speaks to BBC Worldwide – the event provided the opportunity to cast a spotlight on mental health in Africa, with the visiting experts interviewed by BBC World Service and UK newspapers.
Bottom – A self-help group in Kenya, formed by BasicNeeds to offer support to people with mental illnesses.

Culled from CBM UK