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Breaking the cycle of depression: GIF’s $1.6 million grant to StrongMinds

By Taniya Bajaj, Investment Associate, Lalit Kumar, Managing Director - Africa, and Madeleine Eastwood, Head of Communications  |   Posted 7th April 2020

GIF is excited to announce a $1.6 million grant to StrongMinds, a charity that aims to treat depression in women in Africa with less than $2 per day to spend on their families.

StrongMinds currently operates in Uganda and Zambia; and addresses depression by delivering facilitator and peer-led courses of Group Interpersonal Psychotherapy (or IPT-G), a cost-efficient, community-based model of depression treatment that has been created and validated by mental health experts.

IPT-G fosters interpersonal relationships among groups of 12-15 women, led by a facilitator over 12 weeks. The facilitator uses a structured model to help participants identify the causes of their depression and sets up strategies to overcome those triggers. Facilitators are not mental health professionals, but lay community members who have been trained by certified IPT-G experts. IPT-G was rigorously tested in a randomised controlled trial in Uganda by John Hopkins University in 2002 and was found to reduce depressive symptoms by 93%.

During StrongMinds’ six years of operation in Uganda, the organisation has adapted IPT-G with role-playing activities, interactive charts and visual aids, while adapting to the cultures and literacy levels of their participants. Each group meets once a week for approximately 90 minutes. By end of 2018, the facilitator-led model had reached 38,000 participants and the peer-led model had reached 6,000 participants, with improvement rates of 75% and 65% respectively. The World Health Organization recently recommended IPT-G as a first-line treatment for depression in resource-poor settings

Now StrongMinds aims to reach a larger number of women faster by working closely with non-profits focused on women and girls. In time, StrongMinds plans to scale through governments.

StrongMinds will use GIF investment to refine the IPT-G model, by testing and rating its effectiveness in treating and reducing depression, and improvement on wellbeing. GIF investment will also go towards advancing plans to gain traction with governments and exploring the relationship between mental health and gender equality.

GIF investment will also support the organisation to further develop a ‘toolkit’ document aimed at partners implementing its programme through the franchising model. The toolkit acts as a step by step approach for therapists on how to conduct the sessions and what makes the programme most effective.

A portion of the investment ($600,000) in StrongMinds comes from GIF’s gender equality sub-fund, which StrongMinds will use to develop internal expertise on gender dimensions to their work and the organisation as a whole, and to integrate measurement of gender outcomes to monitoring and evaluation. Mental health has traditionally been a poorly resourced sector (receiving less than $130 million funding a year) which, as a result, requires models that are widely applicable and have the potential to be cost effective and impactful. Often there are not enough mental health professionals to treat everyone who needs it, but volunteers running group therapy sessions can have remarkable results. Mental health has also been given explicit focus in two Sustainable Development Goals targets – GIF considers this an area of high value in terms of additionality (an important consideration in GIF’s investment decisions) of what GIF’s relatively limited capital can influence.