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In Zimbabwe, where mental-health care providers are a rarity, a group of older women fondly referred to as “community grandmothers” is filling the treatment gap. Trained by doctors in talk therapy through an organization called the Friendship Bench, these women invite neighbors to meet with them on their benches outdoors, under trees, rather than in traditional offices. And they provide free advice to those suffering from depression and anxiety, locally known as “kufungisisa,” which directly translates into “thinking too much.” Dr. Ruth Verhey, who has been working with the team since 2006, says most visitors to friendship benches were unaware of how mental-health issues were negatively impacting them before these volunteers started reaching out. “People were avoiding opening up and didn’t know what they experienced was kufungisisa,” she says. Going forward, Verhey says she “hopes people will understand that it is easy and important to talk to each other. With Friendship Benches, we empower each other to be authentic about how we feel.”

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By Kat McQuade
Top photo by Rainer Kwiotek / Zeitenspiegel
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2019 print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!

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