Recently, doctors have been sounding the alarm bells on the ongoing global mental health crisis, going as far as to describe the worldwide support for mental health as “pitifully small.” When there is support for mental health issues, the spotlight is centered largely on more developed nations, leaving mental health disorders to be untreated and thrive in developing countries where healthcare systems are generally weak and inaccessible to the general population. However, nonprofits and NGOs are now refocusing their efforts on creating better outcomes for people suffering from poor mental health in less-acclimated nations. Mental health in Africa requires attention, but luckily, some organizations are working there to make a difference.
Mental health support across the continent of Africa, in particular, is notably poor. In 2022, Lesotho, a small country surrounded by South Africa, had the most suicides per capita in the world at 72.4 per 100,000, with surrounding countries displaying similar statistics. The high suicide rate and lackluster mental health across Africa stem from issues such as the prevalence AIDS, widespread poverty, conflict and general lack of resources.
Support for People in Africa
When people living in Africa face these struggles, they seldom receive support. In 2015, Sierra Leone, a nation of 7 million, had only one mental health facility which was to support 104 patients. In Nigeria and South Africa, two of the continent’s more affluent nations, only 10% and 25% of mentally ill citizens have access to a psychiatrist, respectively.
Poor mental health can have dire outcomes for those who do not receive help. While many acknowledge the correlation between mental illness and suicide, lesser emphasis has been placed on the association between subpar mental health and poverty. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, poverty can intensify the symptoms of mental disorders and increase the likelihood of the onset of illness. Moreover, mental health issues can also increase the odds that someone falls below the poverty line. Here are five organizations fighting global poverty by improving mental health in Africa.
5 Organizations Improving Mental Health in Africa
- StrongMinds: Concentrated in Uganda and Zambia, Strongminds provides mental health care to impoverished women living in Africa. It specifically helps treat depression in women by organizing group talk therapy sessions for underprivileged women delivered by community health workers. According to the organization, it has served more than 140,000 women and has an 80% success rate in helping patients recover from their symptoms. In July 2022, the organization received donations from The Inner Foundation, an organization that has raised more than $100,000,000 to support different mental health initiatives.
- Sentebale: Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, and Prince Seeiso of Lesotho founded Sentebale in 2006 to support the children of Botswana and Lesotho in response to the countries’ AIDS epidemics. Sentebale means “forget-me-not” in the Sesotho language, which relates to the organization’s mission of not forgetting some of Africa’s most vulnerable children. Sentebale delivers sexual education, proposes improvements to the country’s healthcare system and provides psycho-social support to the children of Lesotho and Botswana. The organization works directly with communities to help children that the epidemic affected become more “empowered, healthy and resilient.” It also works to gather support from the governments of Lesotho, Botswana and the United Kingdom to support their mission of improving mental health across Africa.
- Dolen Cymru: Founded in 1985, Dolen Cymru is a Welsh organization supporting the nation of Lesotho. It has established various programs, but its core project has been developing Lesotho’s mental healthcare system. Uniquely, Dolen Cymru works primarily with the actual doctors and health educators of Lesotho through the country’s Ministry of Health, providing them with WHO-developed training. According to the foundation, it has trained more than 100 healthcare professionals using an innovative program including discussions about “human rights, stigma and cultural beliefs.”
- African Mental Health Research and Training Foundation (AMHRTF): AMHRTF is an NGO based in Kenya that focuses on mental health research and treatment. Its headquarters are located in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. The organization directly serves the urban population, though it also operates a phone line and telehealth services for people located in more isolated regions that are unable to visit in person. The organization treats a wide variety of mental illnesses, helping patients with mental health issues including substance abuse disorders, PTSD and depression. In 2019, AMHRTF began supporting the CREATE Kenya project. CREATE Kenya is focused on forming a successful social business that provides Kenyans dealing with mental illness an “evidence-based Recovery-Oriented Psychosocial Rehabilitation Toolkit” to help them gain employment and support their wellbeing.
- IOM Libya: IOM, or the International Organization for Migration, is an agency of the U.N. operating in numerous countries to support migrants and refugees throughout the world. IOM Libya is the organization’s branch operating in Libya, focusing on the nation’s migration crisis. Libya is an especially popular location for refugees because of its treacherous sea route to Italy through the Mediterranean Sea. Recently, the organization has helped 12,000 stranded migrants return to their homes. For these refugees and migrants that remain in the country, IOM Libya also provides mental health support because it recognizes the tremendous stress that migrants may face on their journeys. Since 2011, the IOM has been providing counseling, group support and other activities in eight Libyan cities to help migrants recover from their traumas. The organization also trains first responders to better understand mental health issues.
These five organizations have been beneficial to communities in Africa by improving mental health care. Through their continued work, Africans should be able to receive the support they need.
– Ryan Morton
Photo: Wikipedia Commons