Zimbabwean psychiatrist Dixon Chihbanda has devoted himself to solving the problem of how to help people who most need mental health care but face barriers to accessing it. In his research, he found that there was already a large cohort of experienced, empathetic, respected caregivers who were ready and willing to help: grandmothers. "The most important resource that is left in most communities are grandmothers, because they are custodians of local culture and wisdom," Chihbanda said. He developed a pilot program to train grandmothers; the aim was to reinforce women's capacity to listen, to make people feel heard and seen, to give patients a feeling of belonging, and to help them gain the confidence to find their own solutions. The program positioned grandmothers outside in parks, on "Friendship Benches", where they were available to community members to discuss their concerns. Data shows how effective the program is: at six months, participants who interacted with the grandmothers were – according to a range of indicators, including fear, anger, and sleep patterns – better off than patients who received therapy from a community mental health nurse or psychologist. This model could help the US as it is facing a similar shortage of mental health professionals.

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