Pamela’s Story: Treating Depression in Refugee Settings | StrongMinds

Pamela’s Story: Treating Depression in Refugee Settings

33-year-old Pamela resides in a small village within Lamwo District, Northern Uganda. As a busy mom attempting to manage long-standing medical issues, her days are often mentally and emotionally exhausting. In 2021, the unexpected cost of surgery caused Pamela to experience persistent feelings of sadness. Suddenly, all that began to consume her mind was the thought of her looming death. It didn’t help that she’d recently lost her family’s support due to disagreements. Pamela felt defeated and alone.

Not long after, a mental health officer in Pamela’s region suggested she receive a mental health screening. From there, it was determined that she had symptoms of depression, and group interpersonal therapy (IPT-G) was recommended as a way for her to cope. Pamela agreed to treatment, and throughout eight therapy sessions, she discovered links between her condition and the problem areas in her life.

As therapy progressed, Pamela leaned on her fellow group members for support until she could develop the strategies, confidence, and skills to get back on her feet.

After the conclusion of therapy, Pamela was so grateful for the positive changes in her life that she felt compelled to assist others facing similar challenges. She knew many others were facing comparable difficulties, and her newly acquired skills could help. So, when Pamela learned that AVSI was searching for former clients to become peer facilitators (PF), she jumped at the opportunity. In partnership with StrongMinds, AVSI offered Pamela the necessary training to become a volunteer, and she was eventually able to lead IPT-G sessions within her community later that year.

Since then, Pamela has continued to assist depressed individuals, spreading the seeds of good mental health widely. Capacity-building activities are presented to her regularly, and her district is overjoyed by her peer-led therapy groups’ positive impact. Pamela is equally thrilled about her improved functionality and the new relationships she’s gained. “I am very grateful for the program,” Pamela said. “Thank you AVSI and StrongMinds for saving lives”.

StrongMinds treats depression in Uganda’s refugee population, by partnering with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that already deliver healthcare services, training them in our group therapy techniques. To scale our program, we deploy our proven peer therapy group model, whereby we identify graduates from therapy groups who responded particularly well to the intervention and then train them to lead additional groups as volunteers. From there, we support them along the way and monitor the mental health outcomes of their groups. In this way, we can rapidly expand our services to populations that so desperately need mental health support.