Ending the Depression Epidemic in Africa

Depression is a leading cause of disability among women in Africa.

Due to lack of investment, most cases go undetected and untreated.

The Scale of the Problem

The World Health Organization estimates that 280 million people globally are living with depressive disorders. For African women – who are affected at nearly twice the rate of men – depression is a leading cause of disability. Yet, due to the lack of investment in mental health services, approximately 85% of people in low-income countries receive no treatment. The World Bank considers it “the greatest thief of productive economic life,” with yearly global costs of U.S. $2.5 trillion.

What Depression Looks Like

Depression is not a simple feeling of sadness, which diminishes after a few days. Rather, it is a disease that disables more people in Africa than HIV/AIDS, cancer or heart disease. It can endure for weeks, months or years. Symptoms include extreme fatigue, inability to concentrate or make decisions, feelings of guilt or anxiety, and a general loss of interest in life.

What’s at Stake

An African woman with depression, compared with her healthy peer, suffers greatly: She is less productive, has a lower income, and has poorer physical health. If she is a mother, the negative impact extends to her entire family. Research shows that children of depressed mothers are more likely to have poor health, struggle in or miss school, and suffer from depression themselves.

Furthermore, because depression impairs the ability to focus and concentrate, depression sufferers do not respond to health initiatives or livelihoods trainings, rendering these programs less effective.

This impaired ability to function in day-to-day life creates profound hardship in Uganda and Zambia, where life is community-centered and reliant on each person fulfilling her role, and where depression carries great stigma. When a woman is unable to perform her basic of her social responsibilities, she can become a target of criticism and social exclusion. All of this exacerbates her depressive symptoms, creating a dangerous feedback loop.

What We Are Doing

StrongMinds is the only organization working to rapidly scale a solution to the depression epidemic in Africa. By training lay community workers to deliver mental health services through group therapy sessions, we are able to provide depression treatment to the most underserved populations in sub-Saharan Africa.

Benefits of Group Therapy

When a woman first joins a StrongMinds talk therapy group, she will often remark that she previously thought she was alone with her problems. By meeting other women who share her experiences–and with guidance from her group’s facilitator–she will learn how to understand and manage her depression. Connecting with other women and working toward a common recovery goal provides her with a social network and a restored sense of hope. She will leave her therapy group at the end of eight weeks feeling supported, empowered, and depression-free.

The benefits of a woman’s depression recovery extend to those around her. Women who recover from depression can work more, send their children to school more often, and feed their families more regular meals. StrongMinds estimates that for every one woman who recovers from depression, four members of her household feel the benefits.