4 interesting ways mental illness is addressed around the world.

Over the past few months we’ve posted extensively about mental health, exploring everything from specific mental illnesses to various treatment and support options. We’ve covered a lot of ground so far, but it’s really just the tip of the iceberg — especially if you take into consideration the fact that much of our content stems from a North American perspective. Mental health is a universal issue affecting hundreds of millions of lives around the world, and, unfortunately, stigma, inadequate resources, and a general lack of education are universal.  These challenges have inspired some countries to tackle mental illness in truly innovative ways.

“Friendship Benches” in Zimbabwe

The World Health Organization cites depression as the leading cause of disability worldwide, and Zimbabwe is no exception. In the Shona language, it’s referred to as kufungisisa, or “thinking too much,” a term used to describe mental, social, and/or spiritual depression or anxiety. Despite Zimbabweans being aware of the issue, the severe shortage of mental health care professionals means they need to come up with creative solutions.

The Friendship Bench Project is an ingeniously straightforward answer to this complex challenge. Primary care clinics first screen incoming patients using a questionnaire to assess their symptoms. If the patient’s score is above a certain threshold, they’re referred to a Friendship Bench, which is essentially a park bench staffed by a Harare health authority employee who has been trained to provide problem solving therapy. This way, patients can receive effective counseling in a manner that is both culturally familiar and highly accessible. The program is based on cognitive behavioral therapy and has been so successful that organizers are planning on expanding it into neighboring areas.

Singapore Recognizes an Untapped Workforce

Mental illness is considered a “curse” in many parts of Asia. As a result, people dealing with various psychological conditions are often shunned both socially and in their professional lives. This makes finding employment particularly difficult for Asians with more severe illnesses, and without sustainable income, their circumstances are likely to deteriorate. Luckily, an organization in Singapore called The Mindset Learning Hub is working hard to prevent people from slipping through the cracks. Not only do they offer certifications in retail, food and beverage, and custodial services, but they also teach their clients how to write a resume and prepare for interviews. They’ve already partnered with at least forty employers and are looking to start training programs in hospitality and healthcare.

Argentina’s Love of Therapy

While the vast majority of the world is still trying to wrap its head around mental health, Argentinians are already leaps and bounds ahead when it comes to therapy and counseling. In fact, with approximately 198 psychologists per 100 000 residents, the country boasts the largest number of psychologists per capita, according to Quartz. It’s extremely common for people there to talk openly about seeing their therapist. This is because they consider therapy an essential element of staying healthy, just like exercise and eating a balanced diet. Argentinians understand the value of talking through common issues like relationship troubles, financial stress, grief, etc regardless of age, background, or socioeconomic status — so much so there’s even a neighborhood in Buenos Aires nicknamed Villa Freud!

Educating Australian Youth

Children and teens often get left behind in the conversation about mental health, but they can be just as susceptible to depression, anxiety, and other psychological problems. To raise awareness among youth about mental health, the Australian Government Department of Health has funded headspace, a program aimed towards youth aged 12-25 with the goal of teaching them about mental and physical health, addiction, as well as school- and work-related topics. headspace is focused on prevention and early intervention, and actively pursues a mantra of inclusivity and impartiality towards anyone who seeks their services.

Unlike similar initiatives, headspace isn’t just an online resource. They have several physical locations all over Australia, including several rural areas. The centers were designed using feedback from youth to make them as inviting and effective as possible and provide a wide range of healthcare services, from doctors and psychologists to social workers and employment specialists. According to their website, 60% of the youth who have accessed a headspace center have significantly improved, while the remaining 40% are still in recovery and continue to seek support and treatment.

What you can do to revolutionize mental health

Feeling inspired by these initiatives? You can make a difference, too. We’ve made it easy to learn all about mental health by creating an enormous resource library full of dozens of thorough, expert-led videos, podcasts, and tip sheets. All the content is available 24/7 so you can get answers whenever you need, wherever you are. To find out more, simply sign into your LifeSpeak account, or if you don’t have one, ask your HR team to book a demo with us today.


Also published on Medium.