Ending the Depression Epidemic in Africa

Mental illness is the most neglected health problem in the developing world.

Depression is the single most prevalent mental illness.

The Scale of the Problem

Depression is the most prevalent mental illness in the world. The Centers for Disease Control calculates the number of people suffering from depression at 350 million, and The World Bank considers it “the greatest thief of productive economic life,” with yearly global costs at U.S. $2.5 trillion. Nature magazine stated: “Depression is the biggest blight on human society – bar none.”

Nowhere is that more evident clear than in Africa, where approximately 100 million people suffer from the disease, costing the economy roughly U.S. $5 billion a year. For African women – who are afflicted at twice the rate of men – depression is the number one cause of disability. Yet, due to the lack of investment in mental health services, 85% percent of people suffering from depression in Africa – including 66 million women – have no access to effective treatment.

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 a talk therapy groups, she will commonly remark that she 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 goal of recovery provides the social network and the hope she has been missing. She will leave her therapy group at the end of twelve weeks feeling supported, empowered, and depression-free. 

What’s more, for every woman who recovers from depression, five members of her household benefit. That’s because women who become depression-free are able to earn more, send their kids to school more often and feed their families more regular meals. 




Visit these organization’s websites to gain a better understand depression and the impact on the lives of women and their families.