“Why I train grandmothers to treat depression”

Depression is common in Zimbabwe.

Psychiatrists are not.

In fact, there are only about 10 psychiatrists to care for the estimated 3.25 million people in the country suffering from depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses, according to a paper that was recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

At a recent TED conference, the author of the paper, psychiatrist Dixon Chibanda, proposed a possible solution to this problem: grandmothers.

“One the most reliable resources we have in Africa are grandmothers,” says Chibanda. “Yes, grandmothers. And I thought, grandmothers are in every community. There are hundreds of them. And they don’t leave their communities in search of greener pastures. See, the only time they leave is when they go to a greener pasture called heaven.”

“Imagine if we could create a global network of grandmothers in every major city in the world, who are trained in evidence-based talk therapy?”

“So I thought, how about training grandmothers in evidence-based talk therapy, which they can deliver on a bench? Empower them with the skills to listen, to show empathy, all of that rooted in cognitive-behavioral therapy … and support them using digital technology. You know, mobile phone technology. Pretty much everyone in Africa has a mobile phone today.”

“So in 2006, I started my first group of grandmothers. Today, there are hundreds of grandmothers who are working in more than 70 communities. And in the last year alone, more than 30,000 people received treatment … from a grandmother in a community in Zimbabwe … ”

“And so, we’re now working towards expanding this program. There are more than 600 million people currently aged above 65 in the world. And by the year 2050, there will be 1.5 billion people aged 65 and above.”

“Imagine if we could create a global network of grandmothers in every major city in the world, who are trained in evidence-based talk therapy, supported through digital platforms, networked? And they will make a difference in communities. They will reduce the treatment gap for mental, neurological and substance-use disorders.”