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StrongMinds — Impact Brief

Introduction

StrongMinds is a social enterprise founded in 2013 that provides life-changing mental health services to low-income African women and adolescents. StrongMinds delivers facilitator-led and peer-led 10-12-week courses of Group Interpersonal Therapy (IPT-G) for depression with healing rates of 84% and 65%, respectively. This is a relatively low-intensity operational model compared to current approaches of providing mental health care through mental health professionals, which is often scarcely available and inaccessible to the poor, and hence has great potential to scale.

StrongMinds’ model is in line with guidance on IPT-G by the World Health Organisation and builds on evidence from a randomised controlled trial of a similar intervention conducted in rural Uganda in 2002. The study found significantly larger reductions in depression severity for participants of IPT-G compared to people, who did not receive the treatment, both immediately after treatment and in a follow-up survey six months later.

Since starting fieldwork in 2014, StrongMinds has provided IPT-G to more than 78,000 women suffering from depression in Uganda and Zambia. During COVID-19, the Governments of Uganda and Zambia partnered with StrongMinds to conduct public education campaigns that reached 16 million people across Zambia and Uganda through video, radio and social media.

Use of GIF Funds

In December 2019, GIF awarded a US$1.6m grant to StrongMinds to:

  1. Scale their IPT-G model effectively through partnerships, and thereby reach a larger number of women more efficiently.
  2. Institutionalise a gender-lens approach in their work to actively assess gender outcomes and adapt their programmes to empower women and girls.

Objectives

Refine StrongMind’s low-intensity, replicable and scalable IPT-G (interpersonal group therapy) model, and continue testing its effectiveness in healing depression and reducing depression rates and improving well-being metrics by conducting two pilots with iNGOs and/or MoH in Uganda and Zambia with different levels of engagement.  Create the toolkits for replication of the IPT-G model and build a strong pipeline for partnerships with iNGOs and MoH in Uganda and Zambia. Capture learnings related to each model to determine the model for scale, and define a clear path to scale with one or more partners to scale to 20,000 or more women by 2023.

  1. Scaling through partnerships: development of partnerships to build up organisational expertise in this area, and a replication model that supports cost-effective, high-fidelity delivery through these to support scale-up. This includes creation of necessary toolkits, and monitoring and evaluation (M&E) support modules that are deployed and iteratively refined with partners.
  2. Institutionalising a gender-lens: overt incorporation of gender dimensions across StrongMinds including in their organisational policy and strategy, operations, program implementation and M&E to become a truly gender transformative organization.

Impact to Date

In the year 2019 alone, StrongMinds reached over 23,000 patients. However, in March 2020, when COVID-19 disrupted delivery of in-person therapy, StrongMinds rapidly developed and launched a new group teletherapy model. Since then, over 7,000 patients have benefitted from it and early results are promising with 83% of patients experiencing a clinically significant reduction[1] in depression symptoms. To promote better mental health during the pandemic and link individuals to their teletherapy service, StrongMinds’ also successfully launched a mental health chatbot on Whatsapp, Amani. Alongside the public education campaign, this allowed StrongMinds to expand their operations from seven to 42 districts in Uganda and from one to 27 in Zambia in 2020. In Uganda, StrongMinds is collaborating with Ministry of Health (MOH) to provide psychosocial support to frontline health workers, COVID patients, and their family members.


 

[1] A 5-point drop on the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ) -9 scale, an instrument to screen the severity of depression of patients.