The Upside series n. 5: A silent struggle

26 Jun 2020

The pandemic has spread fear and stress no less than viral load. In Zambia our partner StrongMinds is well positioned to help provide the psychological care that women so desperately need.

The full or partial lockdowns imposed to contain COVID-19 have been described as “the largest psychological experiment in the world”. It’s an experiment few would have volunteered to join. Forced isolation has stripped away most of our regular routines — a critical part of well-being — dissolving them in an anxious and uncertain future.

In short, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the pandemic has spread fear and stress no less than viral load. Loss of livelihood, money concerns and anxiety over where the next meal is coming from are hitting vulnerable families hard.

Our partner organisation StrongMinds runs a pioneering programme to treat women with depression in extremely poor communities in Africa. This programme trains community workers to become mental health facilitators and lead group talk therapy sessions, a proven technique, supported by clinical trial success and approved by the WHO.

We are funding StrongMinds to replicate the model they’ve developed in Uganda and apply it in Zambia, a country with just one psychiatric hospital and a total of seven psychiatrists for a population of 17 million people. Since they began a little over one year ago, they’ve treated over 1,400 women living in one of Lusaka’s largest slums.

Currently poised to become the Zambian National Ministry of Health’s technical advisor on mental health, StrongMinds is well positioned to help provide the psychological care that is so desperately needed in the country.

In the words of Frank Harle, StrongMinds’ country director in Zambia: “More than ever, we want to be there for those who are struggling with fear, stress, anxiety, anger, irritability and emotional exhaustion”.

“More than ever, we want to be there for those who are struggling with fear, stress, anxiety, anger, irritability and emotional exhaustion”

Frank Harle, StrongMinds’ country director in Zambia

StrongMinds is responding to this unprecedented threat with three main actions:

1. A mental health awareness campaign on radio and social media channels to help people understand their feelings of depression, anxiety and stress, offering simple techniques to cope with the situation.

2. An initiative with the Psychological Association of Zambia and a number of local NGOs to set up an Allied mental health hotline to identify and screen those suffering from more severe mental health distress, who will then be referred directly to StrongMinds mental health facilitators for follow-up care.

3. A phone-based therapy service that adapts StrongMinds’ interpersonal therapy to provide remote counselling and allow small groups of five women to meet together over the phone twice weekly for a period of five weeks, to address mental health conditions triggered by Covid-19.

Recently interviewed by KBN, Frank’s final advice was “Don’t be hard on each other, be kind. And above all, don’t suffer in silence. We will get through this together”.

Check out the other articles the series The Upside :